Get, set, go(ld): Nikhat Zareen on breaking stereotypes surrounding women boxers

Zareen chats with Cosmo India about being the first woman boxer in Nizamabad, handling pressure with positivity, the importance of discipline, and more.

29 June, 2024
Get, set, go(ld): Nikhat Zareen on breaking stereotypes surrounding women boxers

The Olympics bring together the world’s finest athletes, showcasing their prowess and dedication as they compete for glory and national pride. This grand event exemplifies the spirit of healthy competition and the universal love for sports. With the 2024 Olympic Games just around the corner, Cosmo India caught up with some of the players, who will be representing India on the Olympic stage this year.

Among these athletes is Nikhat Zareen, a member of the new generation of Indian pugilists. Hailing from Nizamabad, Zareen is a two-time world champion whose journey to the top tier of boxing is a testament to perseverance and passion. Zareen spoke to Cosmo India about her relentless pursuit of peak performance, the challenges she has faced as a boxer, and the sources of motivation that fuel her drive.

Cosmopolitan India: What made you choose boxing?

Nikhat Zareen: Sometimes I feel like I didn’t choose boxing, boxing chose me. Before boxing, I was into athletics. So, when I was going for a training session, the Urban Games were going on in Nizamabad district (Telangana). I saw girls in every sport, except boxing. When I asked my father whether there was a rule that disallowed girls from boxing, he said girls can box, but our society thinks that girls are not strong enough to pursue it. So, I decided to take up boxing in 2009. I was the first girl to do so in Nizamabad. I ended up taking a lot of punches from the boys but I never gave up.

C: Over the years, how have you trained your mind to bring out your best performance?

NZ: I try to be as positive as I can. Currently, we are very close to the Paris Olympics, and I don’t want to get distracted by silly things like what people are talking about me. I know a lot of people have a lot of expectations from me. But more than them, I want to win that medal. Of course, the pressure is there. But I just take everything in a positive way. My focus will be only to give my best there. I don’t want to have any regrets later. I want to go all out. That’s it.

C: You mention staying positive. But is it easy doing that every single day in training? What keeps you going?

NZ: It’s not at all easy. Of course, there are days where you don’t want to follow that diet or are tired. I train away from home. I miss my family, and I miss the food my mother makes. But these are emotions that can stop you from going on. If I have to give up a few things for a few days for my country and my family, I will. And being disciplined is everything.

C: How do you deal with losing a match?

NZ: Nobody likes to fail. For me. I don’t take wins or losses to my heart any more. I can only take it as a lesson. I’ve cried on the days I’ve lost. But you don’t give up. You take it on as a challenge to overcome. Self talk works the best for me. Gautam Buddha said, “What you think, you become”. When I talk to myself positively, it impacts my performance. I just have to put in all the hard work and go with a winning mindset during a match.

Image Credit: Unsplash

C: What is the first thing you do when you win?

NZ: I thank God. I talk to my coaches, and after I’ve cooled down, I speak to my parents. If I’ve won the tournament as a whole, I treat myself to some dessert.

C: What has been the best advice that you have received that has stuck with you?

NZ: You’re the creator of your own destiny—this is something my coach had said to me.

C: What has been the most difficult challenge for you to overcome?

NZ: The most difficult phase was my injury back in 2017. I wasn’t prepared for it, because I’ve never had any serious injury in my life. My shoulder was dislocated. The doctor said that I either had to undergo surgery or stop boxing altogether. I had just entered the senior level. I couldn’t just stop. I had so many dreams. It broke me physically and mentally. I would cry every day—I didn’t know why this was happening to me. But everyone around me was really supportive. I used to talk to my psychologist who made me believe that it was happening for a reason. I had to learn something from this. I realised that while I was physically strong, I was not mentally strong. So, maybe God wanted me to come back mentally stronger. I was out for a whole year. But since I came back from injury, I never looked back. I just kept going.

C: Take us through the moment when you qualified for the Olympics. How were you feeling?

NZ: It was the Asian Games quarter-final bout where I was against a boxer from Jordan. I was confident that I would beat her and I finished the bout within one round. I was very happy to win that Paris Olympic quota. It felt like a dream come true.

C: How do you deal with nervousness before a match?

NZ: I listen to my favourite music. Sometimes I talk to a few people—to laugh and joke around. But that’s rare.

C: What has been your proudest moment yet?

NZ: There have been so many. One of them was when I won gold for India at the Commonwealth Games (2018). I had dedicated that medal to my mother. After the Games when we met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he spoke to me about that. That for me was a surprise—one of those times where you feel this is the best moment of your life.

This interview is part of a series that appeared in Cosmopolitan India, May-June 2024 print edition. 

Also read: Meet Lovina Borgohain: the Boxer Bringing Home an Olympic Medal for India

Also read: Mary Kom: “What People See is only the Celebrated Side of My Life. It wasn’t Easy for Me to Reach this Stage.”