Kick-off Destiny!

I follow a neat file of people lined outside Adarsh Foundation Study Center’s office who were there to collect ration under the Covid-19 relief distribution programme initiated by the members of the Center to support community settled in Kurla’s Qureshi Nagar, Mumbai. This fortnightly routine is managed by a young squad led by 21-year-old Sameer Kamble. With the informal sector coming to a halt, Sameer and his team has stepped up to help people in the community in this second wave of the Covid-19 lockdown in Mumbai.

As he notices me, he calls for a cutting chai and puts plastic chairs outside the office. He has frequented this study centre for years. “This is the place that contributed to my success and made me the person I am today!” he said with a beaming smile.

Sameer is a karate champion and has represented India at Russia for the Unifight (Universal Fight) World Championship. “Unifight is not a fighting style. It is a method of training and control where all that matters is the application of skills learned in a full-contact system, under circumstances of stress. At the end of the combat, the winner is the contestant who has prevailed the most rounds,” he explained. Practitioners of any full-contact fighting sport, (judo, sambo, boxing, kickboxing, savate, jujutsu, wrestling, BJJ, Muay Thai, MMA), regardless of style, can participate in Unifight.

While narrating his journey, he beams with pride recounting the “feeling” that cannot be put into words. “To win for your country at an international platform is special,” said Sameer who dedicates his learnings to three mentors – Ragunath sir who taught him the basics, Rohit dada who coached him to tune into the best version of himself and finally, Imran sir who taught him how to dial up his existing skills.

Sameer’s passion for karate started when he as a child would walk back home from school and on the way, would hear students practice. “The sound had me fascinated! I wondered why they wore different colored belts,” says the now black belt rank holder. “My pappa was very supportive after I told him I wanted to enroll in the next batch. I attained the yellow belt and then there was a brief pause in my training. I started assisting the coach for the newer batches and in return, he taught me with a reduced fee. It’s deeply satisfying to teach someone. It reminds me of my early days when I was coached and guided by Rohit dada,” shared Sameer.

When Sameer received the selection letter, preparation and training to represent at the Unifight World Championship 2019 was already under progress. Finding a sponsor, however, was a challenge as he needed a total of Rupees 1 lakh 50 thousand. It was a large sum of money for Sameer and his family – his father works as a BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport) bus driver while mother is a homemaker. He started to lose faith, given the time was ticking. Amidst the uncertainty, he came across Sujata Sawant -a social activist who reassured him that she would ensure that he would not miss the championship because of lack of funds. Sameer’s father took a loan for Rupees 1 lakh and to cover the remaining cost, small amounts were crowdfunded. Despite these efforts, he was short of Rs. 25,000. Sujata did not think twice and pawned her own gold ornaments for the sum. In hindsight, Sameer points this moment to be the one that inspired him to fight till finish. For him, it was the belief of all these people in him that provided him the confidence.

Sameer started dedicating 17 hours every day to practice. He would wake up at 5 in the morning to practice and would head to college at 9 – where he had already missed the first morning lecture of the day. He would rush back home for a session with Imran sir until late evening and then finish off with one last session before dinner.

The day had finally arrived, the team was to fly to Russia with a connecting flight from Delhi. His parents, coach and close friends accompanied him to the airport and called him several times even before he had checked in – just to check on him and the team. “Everyone greeted us with a smile, because we were wearing the Team India jersey,” said Sameer who was flying for the first time.

The match was scheduled two days after their arrival. On the day of the game, he recalls telling himself that – “this is what he was here for and had to give his best!” As he sat there after the match, he was in a daze. He missed his name announced on the loudspeaker. He recalls walking up to the podium with the crowd cheering on as he bagged the 3rd place. But that “feeling” was hitting him like a tidal wave – “I made my nation proud!” He derives inspiration from Dr. B R Ambedkar’s quote, “Sincerity is the sum of all moral qualities.” He is currently working at Adarsh Foundation as an Administrative Assistant Manager and shares how he wishes to represent India at the Olympics someday soon. With this, the young squad calls him back on duty and he hops to collecting the Aadhar cards and handing ration kit to those standing in que.

– Mithila Naik Satam