Former junior world champion boxer Mandeep Kaur is gunning for a gold medal at the 36th National Games, hoping that a podium finish here would open up doors for her recruitment in Punjab Police and end her dependence on her father's farm earnings to fund her dietary requirements.
The two-time gold medallist at the Inter-University Games began her National Games campaign with an effortless win over Tamil Nadu's J Hanna Joy in the 57kg category.
"It's been a tough journey, especially when I have to go back to my father asking for money for supplements. Whatever pocket money I get from my family is exhausted in diet. It is difficult when you don't have any sponsors to back you.
But then life is all about hopes, and I hope the doors open for me once I win a National Games gold," she added.However, the road to the National Games gold won't be a cakewalk for the Punjab boxer with Assam's Jamuna Boro, a former world championship medallist and a pre-tournament favourite, also in fray in the 57kg weight category.
"There are many good boxers in the category, it can be anybody's day in the ring going forward. Each bout is different as we get to face boxers with different techniques, that is the charm of the sport, isn't it?," she added.
Mandeep Kaur, who hails from Chakar village near Ludhiana which is also the native place of Tokyo Olympian Simranjit Kaur Baath, fell in love with the sport at the age of seven.
But her father's financial condition made it difficult for him to pay for her gloves or training equipment. But Sher-e-Punjab Sports Academy came forward to sponsor the girl and she hasn't looked back since then.
The youngster, who had joined the academy after following in the footsteps of her elder brother, won the 2011 and 2012 National Sub-junior titles, before picking up a gold medal in the 4th Junior Nations Boxing Cup held in Serbia in 2015.
After the junior world championship gold, Mandeep Kaur was selected to train under Dronacharya awardee Cuban coach Blas Iglesias Fernandez at PIS, Mohali. "Simranjit and I train at the same centre in Mohali under Fernandez sir.
There are many boxers from Punjab and across the country who come and train at the academy, where thankfully I don't have to worry about diet, the most essential need for any athlete," she said.
While Mandeep Kaur missed out on a shot at the Tokyo Olympics, the 22-year-old now aims to make an impact as preparations for the next Olympic cycle have already started.
And after the National Games, Mandeep will head back to the camp in Mohali to prepare for the senior national boxing championships in Bhopal in December.
"It will be a very busy year for all boxers. I will head straight to the camp after the National Games, and will start preparing for the national championships. Winning the nationals will open the doors for national selection.
Then we have the world championships and the Asian Games before the final goal of representing India in Paris," the 2019 national championship bronze medallist said before signing off.