Persuaded by her father to box, Hema Rai is now well known in the Nepali boxing scene. Starting with a couple of losses, she went on to win ten out of fourteen bouts. After taking part in some prestigious tournaments she has received many accolades. Starting at an early age, she has invested her youth to achieve not only her own but also her father’s dream. With the Asian Games in sight, she’ll be hoping to continue her ascendency and be at her best.
How did you get into boxing?
Mostly because of my dad; he’s in Australia and the boxing scene there is fabulous. He realized that boxing had good scope in Nepal. I had good physical attributes, in terms of height and shape for an eighteen year old. Especially in my family, I was really tall. So, he asked me to join boxing and I readily agreed. I was eighteen at the time and it’s been around four years now.
You started because of your father, what has kept you going?
Well, It’s fun! I also love the competition it offers. There are always a number of people better than you in your weight category. I have to continuously level up and defeat them. That’s the motivation - the competition and the continuous self- development.
Obviously boxing strengthens you physically; does it also help with mental strength?
I don’t know about mental strength but it does affect my mental health. There was a point when I was so down, I was almost depressed. A loss can take a heavy toll on you. The training and the preparation keeps me busy. I look at people who are of my age; they’re going out and having fun; I can’t do that. All this does affect me but again, once you win a bout, you have a good feeling. I feel exhilarated after a win; everything is forgotten.
How’s the scope of boxing especially for a woman?
There is a lot of scope, as a boxer and as a coach. I have not seen a single female boxing coach; that’s one area we can work on. I have seen some women referees though. You can also be a personal trainer which offers good income. I did that for some time.
What does your typical routine look like?
I train twice a day. I get up at six, go for training at seven-thirty and train till ten. I rest and sleep for a while, then again go for training at 4. It’s hectic. Right now my college is off; it’s even more stressful when it’s on. It’s difficult to balance things and have a social life.
What are the biggest challenges you’re facing as a young athlete?
Like I said there’s a lot of stress. The routine is tough. Add to that the judgment of people. People passed presumptuous remarks like ‘this girl can’t box’. They kept de-motivating me. But now I have won Ganeshman and I am the province 3 champion. They don’t say anything anymore.
What is your track record like?
I have had ten bouts in total. I started with two consecutive losses, then Covid happened and I had a gap of almost a year. After that I started winning. Now I have won ten out of 14 bouts.
What’s the best bout you’ve had?
All the bouts for me are similar. No matter what the location, the tournament, with or without the crowd. Be it LOD or Boxmandu. The only thing that matters is the result. Preferably a win. In my case, I am not afraid of getting hit, what scares me is losing. I don’t want to lose.
Do you see yourself boxing at the international level?
Yes obviously. I have recently been selected for a camp for the Asian Games that’s going to happen in China. There are four of us in the same weight category in the camp and only one of us will get to go. The camp will last for four months. It’s tough but one out of four is a good chance.
What goes through your mind when you’re inside the ring?
The feeling is completely different. I am completely numb. Everything is blurred, the crowd, the noise - everything. I can only see my opponent. It’s like I’m inside a television set. I am only focused on defeating the other person. It’s a do or die situation, there’s no escape and no space to be afraid.
Your inspiration in boxing?
To be honest, no one. If I had to choose, it’d be my father because he encouraged me to take up boxing and he’s been supporting me throughout.