Winning an Olympic medal is surely something to be proud of. But when you’re the first female from your country to medal in your sport, you have every reason to feel like you’re on top of the world.
According to Women in the World, wrestler Sakshi Malik took home India’s first Olympic medal of the Rio games on Thursday, Aug. 18 after she won bronze in the 58kg women’s wrestling match. Her achievements don’t stop there, however: the win makes her “the first female Indian wrestler, and the fourth Indian woman, to win an Olympic medal,” reports Women in the World.
But the road to her Olympic victory has been far from easy. Women in the World says that Malik her two teammates come from Haryana, “the conservative north Indian state notorious for honor killing and sex-selective abortions — the region has the lowest birth ratio of girls to boys in all of India.”
Beginning her training at the age of 12, Malik said villagers used to shame her for practicing the sport, wrestling with boys and wearing shorts, reports Women in the World — all things that challenge the status quo of an area that didn’t allow girls to train with boys until 2002 and expects women to be fully covered in their dress.
“It hurt a little and I wondered why people said such mean things, especially when I was so young,” Malik said, according to Women in the World.
But now that the athlete has garnered worldwide attention and acclaim, Women in the World says Malik noticed that people have changed the way they treat her. “It’s so weird to see how people can change so suddenly,” she said, “how they take interest in me now that I’m rising to the top, yet didn’t support me when I was starting out.”
The one constant in her life: her family’s support. Without their encouragement, Women in the World reports that Malik knows her life would have taken a more typical path, leaving her married and with children instead of with an Olympic medal.
“My life is very special compared to my friends,” she said.
As for her Olympic win, that, too, did not come easily. Women in the World says Malik battled back from a 0-5 score while squaring off against Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova, only to win by a score of 8-5.
It looks like Malik’s life has a recurring theme: she continues to do the very thing that seems impossible.