Almost two decades back, one fine morning, Denarian Thoudam Kabita Devi reached Guwahati with her aunt. She had left everyone in her village Tolengram with a sparkle in her eyes and a smile. She stepped into a new city to give wings to her dreams.
Kabita is no longer little, and her dreams are no longer just that. With grit, determination and hard work, she has confidently challenged every obstacle. Kabita has put Assam on the world map of fencing (Olympic sport) by becoming the first athlete from the state to bring a gold medal in fencing at an international platform ‘South Asian Games 2019’.
She is presently the number 1 Epee fencer of the country and for the next three years, all her attention is on one event: Paris Olympic 2024.
Born in a lower-middle-class family in remote Tolengram village near Lakhipur town in Cachar district, Kabita never lowered her aspirations. “Since childhood, all I wanted to become was a sportsperson. I used to participate in every sports event which was being organised at my village and neighbouring areas, and was a well-known athlete in my locality,” Kabita says in a conversation with EastMojo.
Witnessing her potential, one of her aunts encouraged her to pursue sports and, accordingly, took her to the Sports Authority Centre in Guwahati.
“At SAI, I got to know about Fencing,” Kabita said, adding, “Before that, I didn’t even know such a sport existed. After listening to my elders, I took admission to that game. After learning fencing for one year, I went on an excursion tour to Patiala, Punjab. I happened to participate in the National Sub Junior fencing championships and surprisingly, won a silver medal. The win boosted my confidence and I started taking a keen interest in fencing. At SAI, I learned the technical details of the sport. The constant support of my coach L Biswarjit Meetei helped me turn my dreams into reality,” she narrates.
Kabita credits her father Govindas Singha, a farmer, as her “biggest support system”.
“I am nothing without him,” she says.
“During the 2008 Olympic qualification in Thailand, SAI informed us it would be difficult to meet the budget as the expenditure is quite high. At that time, my father sold a portion of our land and sent me for Olympic qualification,” she recalls.
Winning the South Asian Games in 2019 completely changed Kabita’s life. “Winning gold in the Epee Individual category at an event like the South Asian Games was a dream come true for me. I still get goosebumps reminiscing that moment,” she adds, tearing up with happiness.
Kabita is now seeking an opportunity to go to the USA or France for better training
“This year, unfortunately, I missed the Tokyo Olympic qualification by just 8 points. My next target is the upcoming Asian Games 2022 and Paris Olympics 2024. On receiving better training, I can bring the next Olympic medal for my native state Assam,” she asserts.
Speaking about Kabita and her journey, her coach L Biswarjit Meetei, the current chief coach-cum-technical director of Assam Fencing Association, says, “Kabita is very passionate and dedicated towards fencing. I first met her around 17-18 years ago, when she was just 12-13 years old. Kabita came to the SAI centre with her aunt to take admission. As far as I remember, she came here to learn boxing. However, when they saw me teaching fencing to other kids her age, they changed their minds and put her in fencing. Fencing was formally introduced in SAI in 2006. So, before (i.e from 2003 to 2006) she attended day boarding classes which I used to take under Assam Fencing Association.”
Like Kabita, her coach is also quite confident and believes in her potential of winning Olympic medals.
“After joining SAI, she has participated in many various national as well as international fencing championships and won medals. She has twice participated in Asian Games, Guangzhou, China 2010, and Jakarta, Indonesia 2018. And also participated in the Olympic qualifying round in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in the Individual Epee Event for the last Tokyo Olympics. Unfortunately, she didn’t qualify and missed by a few points. But I must admit with proper guidance, she definitely can become the 2nd Olympic medalist from Assam,” he shares.
“I feel proud when people recognise me as Kabita’s mentor and guide.”
It must be mentioned here that Meetei is the first coach of the Assam Fencing Association. In 1998, he started fencing coaching and took the responsibility of popularising it across the state.
Around 23 years ago, the city lacked a proper field to practise fencing. So, Meetei would practise wherever he would get some space: sometimes in the SAI field or Nehru Stadium, or even in his small courtyard in a rented house in Ulubari with a few kids in his locality. Many of his old students are now noted fencers and established trainers.
“Even though the game is getting popular, there is still much more to do. However, I am quite hopeful soon a day will come when fencing will be accepted just like other mainstream sports, and our younger generation will take much more interest and participate in large numbers,” he concludes.
An inspiration to others
Kabita’s inspirational story has influenced other fencers too.
Priya Rani Devi, an aspiring woman fencer, says, “Kabita is an inspiration for aspiring fencers of the state. The way she has made her mark, defeating all obstacles has not only motivated me to take up fencing seriously but also made me believe that nothing is impossible.”
Speaking about their bonhomie, she adds, “She is around 4 years senior to me in the world of fencing. At the SAI centre, we practised together for two years before she went to Patiala for further training. She is just like an elder sister who guides me both professionally and personally.”
According to Priya, Kabita is a powerhouse of talent. “Almost on every visit to Assam, she takes special classes for young women fencers. Watching her games closely is a treat to the eyes,” Priya adds.
Priya presently works in Assam Police under Unit 5th APBn Sontilla, Haflong, and she and some colleagues have been requesting the Assam Police to include fencing in the Assam Police Sports Control Board.
From a simple village girl to one of the country’s top fencers, Kabita has come a long way. The journey of her grit and determination is a motivation for many youngsters, especially young girls from rural areas who fail to explore their potential due to a lack of opportunities.
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