When Preeti Gulia left for Bengaluru to represent Maharshi Dayanand University in the Khelo India University Games 2021, her farmer father’s only plea to her was: ‘get a gold medal this time, beta.’
So, when she defeated her nemesis Unnati Sharma of Lovely Professional University in the 63kg women’s judo final on Friday, Preeti’s joy knew no bounds. “My father asked me only of one thing. He said, go win the gold this time. It was these words that motivated me in the final.”
In the previous edition of Khelo India University Games in KIIT, Odisha, Preeti had won a bronze medal in the same category. “Only 25 days ago, I had lost to Unnati in the All India University. I had lost to her in the Junior Nationals as well. So, winning against her here at the Khelo India University Games is very special for me.”
From the jatt community in Haryana’s Rohtak district, Preeti was never subjected to the stereotypes in her community. In fact, her family has backed her talent as a judoka and have been a big source of strength in her rising career. “I have an elder sister and a younger brother, but my family has always treated me like their son, and have never restricted me from pursuing a career in judo. In fact, despite financial constraints, they ensure I have everything I need to become a better judoka and I will give it my all to make them feel proud,” she said.
Having moved to Bhopal in pursuit of exceling in the sport, Preeti emphasized the role of her coach Ajay Singh Roohil, the Head Coach at SAI, Bhopal in her improved performance. “I have been training under Ajay Singh for the last two years. While I learnt the basics from my childhood coaches back home, whatever I am able to do today is because of Ajay sir. He inspires me and motivates me to give my best and supports me completely,” she added.
This victory is sweeter for Preeti as she overcame a career-threatening injury to clinch the gold. “I injured my knee in 2017, and in 2018 I had a surgery. In senior state recently, I once again injured the same knee. But I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to do well at the KIUG 2021, so I had tied my knee really tight so I wasn’t able to bend today. I really didn’t care if something happened. I just wanted to win,” stated a determined Preeti.
Next, she has set her sights on winning a medal for India. “I want to be a champion in my category and I will give my best to reach that level. So far, I have only participated in one international meet that is the Commonwealth Championships. My next aim is to win a medal for India,” she signed off.