Commonwealth Games a homecoming for Canadian wrestler Arjan Bhullar
Commonwealth Games a homecoming for Canadian wrestler
Canadian wrestler Arjan Bhullar knows an entire Indian village will be behind him when he’s on at the mat at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
It’s a place where everyone doesn’t just know his name — most share it.
It’s a remote outpost called Bhullar.
“Everyone in that village has the last name Bhullar,” said Bhullar, whose father had a huge following in his native India as an Olympic freestyle wrestler. "My dad was kind of a hero. Everyone got behind him. He was the biggest story out of that tiny village. Not much was expected. They don’t have much. It’s very impoverished and they live very simple lives. He was able to get somewhere.”
Avtar Bhullar was one of the top wrestlers on a professional circuit in India that offered prize money and at big tournaments sometimes had cars, gold and jewellery up for grabs.
Arjan Bhullar’s family made an annual pilgrimage from their cranberry farm in Richmond, B.C., to India when he was growing up. They got to visit their roots and the home they maintained there, while his father tested his mettle against the best wrestlers of the day.
Arjan’s voice is filled with reverence as he recalls being a little boy sitting among 40,000 wrestling fans rooting for his father.
“It was cool, man, it was cool,” recalls Arjan. “As a kid, everything seems a lot bigger. I can remember huge crowds following him and people trying to get his autograph, women coming up to him and asking him to hold their kid and everything. I’m thinking ‘Man, this is a big deal.’”
It’s certainly a big deal for Bhullar as he gets ready to represent Canada in the 120-kilo division at the Commonwealth Games. He readily acknowledges the tradition he must uphold.
“I embrace that, definitely,” he said. “Got to keep up that reputation and the family name. The Bhullar name is synonymous with success.”
Wrestling is in your DNA when you’re a Bhullar. He has 10 cousins and they all wrestled, too, including one who will compete for England at the Games.
Home movies show Arjan as a tyke training right beside his father. Avtar would be running on the track. His little shadow was with him. Dad would be doing push-ups. Ditto for Arjan.
He began to get serious about it when he was in Grade 10, but there was no wrestling team at his high school in Richmond, where he also excelled in basketball and football.
No matter. They built an impressive, fully-equipped wrestling compound on the family’s farm, where his dad oversaw his training.
He won his first title that year. He was his high school’s wrestling team.
His father taught him that hard work was the best currency. When he dropped his son off early for school, Avtar Bhullar made him run around the nearby trails before class started. Once the gym was built, training began each day at 6 a.m. After school, his father would be there, waiting to put him through another session.
When, as a high-schooler, Bhullar became distracted by other temptations, his father put him to work in the family’s cranberry fields during the summer.
“He made me work alongside the older immigrants, 60 years old, working in the fields in the hot sun for hours on end,” he said. “That built a lot of character. He showed me, These old men are working so hard for what you already have. You should be grateful.’ That was a good learning experience to go through that. It toughened me up.”
The 24-year-old Simon Fraser University student was ninth at last year’s world championships but finished a disappointing 18th at the 2010 worlds in Moscow last month.
“I do it to be the best, not to be No. 2 or No. 3,” said Bhullar. “I won’t be satisfied until I get that gold medal.”
One of wrestling’s big appeals to Bhullar, besides the family history, is that he believes “it shows what a man is truly made of.”
“There’s not too much equipment, not too many rules — they’re more a guideline — there’s no other teammates or anything to blame for your loss or your shortcomings,” he said. “It’s a true test. Football, basketball, I quit that, because the team wasn’t as serious as me and they accepted losing. And I’m not one of those types of guys. That’s why I stuck with wrestling. I’m real passionate about it.”
He was devastated when he failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, losing out by a point to a former world champion from Cuba. He set up his own website shortly afterwards ( www.arjanbhullar.com) with this quote on the homepage: “Adversity causes some men to break and others to break records.”
“There’s two ways of looking at it,” said Bhullar. “I could have been discouraged and thought there’s no way I’m ever going to make it. Or I can say I learned and in another four years I’m going to make it and I’m going to do something on the world stage when my time comes. That’s the way I chose to go about it and that’s the quote I chose to express my feelings.”
He may need that strong resolve at the Commonwealth Games. He enters the tournament as one of the favourites and he will have a huge following. Twenty family members are coming from Canada, another group is making the six-hour trek from the village of Bhullar, plus all of his father’s old wrestling buddies will be there.
“When he goes to India everybody’s going to be like, ‘He’s Avtar’s son. Let’s see how he does. His sad used to wrestle like this . . . ,” said Avtar Bhullar. “There’s always talk about that. All eyes are going to be on him. . . . Arjan’s got the capability, he’s got the strength and technique and stuff. I think Arjan will be bringing home a gold medal.”
What I like about the Commonwealth Games is that they have to "hire" Langur monkeys to guard against other monkeys attacking the spectators.
Sorry but if he's up against Denis, I'll be barracking for him :)
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