Lonely, talented, desperate: India's only pro female sumo wrestler

Looking for somewhere to practice, some sponsors and some recognition. Call me now!
By Divya Dugar 31 March, 2011

On a Sunday afternoon at Oval Maidan amidst boys swinging cricket bats, India's only female sumo wrestler warms up for her practice session.

Hetal Dave, a 170-centimeter, 23-year-old Brahmin Marwari seems far from the image of an obese sumo wrestler but she is strong, well-built and extremely focused.

In between push-up rounds at Oval Maidan she explains that sumo wrestling is not just about weight.

"It's a game of concentration and every fraction of a second matters," says Dave.

With no professional sumo ring to practice in, a quiet corner of the Oval is her daily haunt, where she hones her skills as a pro wrestler.

"It's strange sometimes to practice here, as people stop, stand and just stare," she says.

Dave's interest in sumo stems from judo, which she's been practicing since the age of six when her father enrolled her in classes.

She became known in Mumbai's martial arts scene and started standing in as a mock partner for male sumo wrestlers.
Some think I'm talking about Tata Sumo, others just don't care
— Hetal Dave

"Out of 100 games I'd win 60 -- that gave me the confidence to pursue sumo wrestling as a professional," Dave says.

It all sounds very cool and "Million Dollar Baby" except when you realize what a lonely professional life it is, practicing an ancient sport from another country, that's traditionally meant for men.

The two main men in Dave's life are brother, Akshay, her sparring partner and an aspiring pro sumo wrestler himself. And her coach Cawas Billimoria, who trains her for international competitions but can't always come along for lack of funds.

Dave has traveled to Estonia, Taiwan and Poland representing India in global sumo competitions and placed fifth in the women’s middleweight category at the 2009 World Games in Taiwan.

"While playing in international tournaments you need someone to guide you -- this is very important for a player and having no one to do that is a big drawback for me," she says as she proudly unfurls an eight-kilo mawashi belt that sumo wrestlers wear while in training or competition.

"The mawashi belt is very dear to any sumo wrestler," she says. "I recently got this belt from my coach, but for my first international tournament I had to borrow one."
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