Digging wells, selling onions, serving as a petrol pump attendant and in the army, Dattu Bhokanal, hailing from a village from Maharashtra’s Nashik district, has done it all. He has also won a gold medal at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games for the quadruple scull team event. Perhaps, that is why his dream story of garnering glory for India and its realisation is so endearing.
Bhokanal’s journey of suffering from extreme poverty and afflicted by misfortune to his triumph at Jakarta is the stuff of popular films and gives hope to everyone dreaming big. The Dattu Bhokanal story starts from Chandwad village in Nashik where he had to drop out of school after his fifth standard and take up work as a daily wage earner job of well digging to supplement his father’s meagre income and support his family of two younger siblings and an ailing mother. Since then, he took other odd jobs like selling onions, being a mason, a waiter in marriage ceremonies, a farm help and petrol pump attendant even as he just about managed to continue his studies. The death of his father in December 2011 made things worse for Bhokanal but luckily, he managed to join the army. His daily long runs to the school after his work at the petrol pump made him physically fit for the tests during army recruitment.
It is in the army that Bhokanal’s journey to the Asian Games gold medal began. Overcoming his fear of water, Bhokanal started training for being a rowing athlete. This paid off in no time and in 2013, he started training in the Army Rowing Node and won two gold medals in the national championships. The international outing at 2014 Incheon Asian Games turned out to be a bit of disaster for Bhokanal when he fell unconscious. On his return to India, he had to battle a back injury and the loss of his mother after an accident. But like all fighters and champions he didn’t give up on his dream. The road to Jakarta gold was also far from smooth with him having high fever and blanking out in the initial events. However, he made it all up in the quadruple scull team event to give himself and India a gold medal.
With the Asian Games gold and glory behind him, Bhokanal has now set his sights on a gold medal in the next Olympics. His story clearly sends the message to all of us that no matter what the situation, it is always possible to dream big and equally important, realise even the most impossible dream.