Pune: Pune-based wrestler Rahul Aware, who won a gold medal at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games, was greeted by a hero’s welcome from hundreds of fans at the Pune International Airport on Tuesday.
The 26-year-old shed tears of joy and said it was “a dream come true” to bring laurels for the country on an international level. Rahul, who practises in Pune in Kaka Pawar’s Talim, was honoured with a Puneri pagadi and hoisted on the shoulders of his enthusiastic fans as he stepped outside the airport.
The young wrestler won the gold at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in Australia last Thursday. In a gripping final bout against Canada’s Steven Takahashi, Aware won 15-7 despite struggling with an injury in the latter half.
“I have been waiting for this medal for the last 10 years. I can’t describe how it feels to claim it. I missed out on 2010, even in 2014, the team was sent without trials. So, I am very happy that I could finally fulfil this dream,” an ecstatic Aware said.
From seeing his farmer father Balasaheb work hard to make both ends meet in drought-prone Beed district of Maharashtra to winning the first wrestling gold for his country in this edition of Commonwealth Games, the 26-year-old has grappled many adversities to reach where he is today.
The Mama-Kaka influence
“It was Birajdar mama’s dream that at least one of his disciples should win a gold medal at an international event… It was tough to continue when he passed away in 2011,” said an emotional Aware, who underwent training with Arjuna awardee Kaka Pawar later on.
Aware’s story is no different from a lot of wrestlers coming from back of the beyond: Winning those ‘Dangals’ and funding his dietary needs with the pocket money. Aware’s journey started in 2005 from a little-known tehsil in Beed district called Patoda.
Aware’s triumph in Gold Coast is being celebrated as one of the biggest successes of wrestling in Maharashtra. Despite a glorious past with the likes of Olympic medallist Khashaba Jadhav, Commonwealth Games gold medallists Birajdar and Kaka Pawar, Maharashtra has lost its pride of place in Indian wrestling to Haryana in last few decades. “Aware’s medal is a watershed moment for wrestling in the state as it is the first gold medal by a wrestler from Maharashtra in a high-profile event after 1982,” Kaka Pawar, who trains Rahul at his Talim in Katraj stated.
Aware is also a 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games medallist, winning the gold in Pune. For Aware, it was akin to winning the coveted medal in front of a home crowd, having been born in the town of Patoda in Beed district of Maharashtra.
The 26-year-old also won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Championships at Melbourne in 2011. Aware also finished 11th at the Wrestling World Championships held at Tashkent in 2014.