She may be the hottest new sensation on the Indian wrestling circuit, but the sport was not the first love for Haryana girl Pooja Dhanda.
Hailing from Gudana village in Hisar district, Pooja had started her career as a judoka. But she switched over to wrestling in 2009 on the advice of Asian champion Kripa Shankar Bishnoi. She hasn't looked back since then.
Pooja went on to take the silver medal at the 2010 Youth Olympics in the girls' 60 kilogram before displaying her dominance in the senior nationals.
"I debuted in the national championship in 2013 and defeated Babita Phogat in the final. I have participated four times in the senior national and emerged champion every time," Pooja told IANS.
Her dominating performances in the national championships saw her being offered Babita Phogat's role in the Bollywood movie Dangal.
Fate however, was soon to take an unfortunate turn for Pooja.
She suffered a tear in her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) during a practice session at a training camp in Lucknow.
Pooja had just started to break into the senior ranks at that stage and the injury threw her career into uncertainty. The injury also ruled her out of the movie.
She had to undergo two surgeries and a lengthy rehabilitation process, including a three-week stint in Mumbai.
"I was selected but due to an injury I had to be out for six months. Although, I tried to get back to training after that period but wasn't feeling fit enough and had to go back to rehab," Pooja recalled.
"I had given nine years of my life to wrestling and did not want to leave it midway without fulfilling my dreams," she added.
Returning to competitive wrestling after a gap of two years, she registered herself for the second season of the Pro Wrestling League (PWL), hoping to get scouted by a team despite her injury concerns.
She represented the Jaipur Ninjas for two seasons during which her performances were much appreciated.
Even though her team didn't qualify for the semi-finals, her performances were applauded and she joined reigning champions Punjab Royals ahead of the third season.
During the third PWL season, Pooja defeated reigning World and Olympic champion Helen Maroulis of the US twice, including once in the final as Punjab successfully defended their crown.
She also defeated World Championship silver medallist and Olympic bronze medallist Odunayo Adekuoroye of Nigeria and World Championship silver medallist Marwa Amri of Tunisia during the course of the tournament.
Buoyed by her PWL performances, Pooja is aiming to do the country proud at the international level.
Pooja now wants to win gold at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games later this year.
She had defeated senior wrestler Geeta Phogat in the trials to book her spot in the Indian squad for this year's Commonwealth Games.
"Beating Maroulis was a major confidence booster for me," Pooja emphasised.
"Actually, when you get the opportunity to share the ring with these Olympic standard players in your own country, it automatically motivates you and prepares you to perform well in international events," she added.
(Ajeyo Basu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)