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Updated January 28th, 2024 at 19:30 IST

KIYG 2023: Tea-seller’s daughter hopes medal will give her platform to face-off against Mirabai

Panchami is the youngest of three sisters, two of whom are married, and a brother Santosh (Sonowal), who earns his livelihood as an auto-rickshaw driver.

Panchami Sonowal
Panchami Sonowal | Image:KIYG
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It was the end of another tiring day at this small tea stall that also serves lunch to the ones working around Jiadhol Chariali in Dhemaji. Suddenly, a phone call from Chennai fills proprietors Luhit Sonowal and his wife Budheswari Sonowal with a sense of pride but also leaves them a bit worried.

Their youngest daughter Panchami Sonowal had clinched silver-medal in women’s 49 kg weightlifting competition at the Khelo India Games 2023 but had to be stretchered off to the hospital after that.

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Panchami, who went into the competition as the youth national record holder in Snatch (70kg), had to settle for the second spot with a total lift of 167 kg and in the process also saw her record being broken by Maharashtra lifters Arati Tatgunti and Soumya Dalvi, who eventually took the gold and bronze medal with total hoists of 170 kg and 175 kg, respectively.

“I wanted to go for the national record in both categories, but eventually it wasn’t my day. I also couldn’t attend the medal ceremony, but glad to get another KIYG medal,” she reacted.

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“It (the fall) was painful, and I could barely walk. The x-ray result confirmed that there was no fracture. There is still a bit of pain, but hopefully I should be fine in a couple of days,” she said.

Fresh from winning a gold at the Junior National Weightlifting Championships, a silver in the senior category, and another gold in inter-state competition last month, this was the 18-year-old Assamese lifter’s second medal in four appearances at the Khelo India Youth Games.

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For Luhit and Budheswari, their youngest daughter’s achievements in the sport are now a routine affair, “My parents aren’t aware of my competitions. For them, if I win a medal, it’s an achievement, and even if I fail, they will keep supporting me. Quite understandably, they aren’t related to the sport. But they have always focussed on providing me with the best support and care. They were a bit worried as I was taken to the hospital but now they are fine,” she said.

Panchami is the youngest of three sisters, two of whom are married, and a brother Santosh (Sonowal), who earns his livelihood as an auto-rickshaw driver. Santosh has a nine-year-old son, whom Panchami aims to nurture as a sportsperson.

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“Every time I’m home, my nephew takes a keen interest in my training. He is just 9 now, and I want him to be a sportsman and make sure he learns to be independent and achieve a lot,” she said.

Panchami was inspired to take up the sport by some friends, who would regularly spend their afternoons at the Batgharia Sports Club in Dhemaji. She soon cleared the trials for Sports Authority of India (SAI) Guwahati NCOE and made it to the junior camp in 2017. However, before she could complete her stint at the SAI centre, Covid-19 struck. By the end of the first phase of lockdown, Panchami decided against returning to Guwahati and continued her training back at the Batgharia Club.

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Panchami is excited at the prospect of facing off against her idol and Olympic silver medallist Mirabai Chanu, who also competes in the same weight division. For Panchami, the first goal at the senior level remains a podium finish at the Commonwealth Games. “The first target is to win Gold at the Commonwealth Games, as I prefer to take one step at a time.” 

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Published January 28th, 2024 at 19:30 IST

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