CHENNAI: She stepped into the boxing ring to train when she was 12 years old; within a week or two, she was fighting seasoned boxers who were twice her age. Meet Thualsi Helen, fondly known as Lady Mohammed Ali for her footwork and body movement that’s similar to the legend’s. Having won several tournaments by knockouts in the Women’s Boxing category Thulasi is all set to get back into professional boxing after a four-year break.
“Being a woman, sustaining in boxing amid so many problems is a struggle. But, I don’t want to look back; only look forward to pro boxing,” she says.
By the time she was 24, Thulasi was known as one of the best boxers in the country. “That was the beginning of my career. My sister began boxing first. Watching her, I developed an interest and started punching my way through,” says the 30-year-old.
Born in a Dalit family, discrimination was a way of life for Thulasi. After her first few matches, she left home due to family disputes and started living with her grandmother and friends. From delivering pizzas to driving an auto, this pugilist has done it all to survive. “I have always had the ambition to never give up. I want to go back to being on top of the rankings,” she shares.
Winning her first gold in 2000 at the Indian International Boxing Championship, New Delhi, was the turning point of her career. At 14, she was selected by the Sports Authority of India for training in Kollam (Kerala) for a year. “We didn’t know that our train tickets were free and that we would get paid for the matches I play. Not a single penny came by. Only after arriving in Kerala and talking to other state players did I know that we were being cheated,” she recollects.
Fighting her way to the top and defeating Olympian Mary Kom in 2008, Thulasi has won over 30 medals in 16 years.
Does her life sound familiar to you? It should, as Thulasi says the film Irudhi Suttru is her real-life story. “When I saw the movie with my friends, we couldn’t believe that the plot including the small scenes, was based on our lives (Thulasi and her sister). I don’t blame anyone for not crediting us. I only want to appreciate and thank the director for portraying reality.”
Her marriage was short-lived and after a temporary halt in boxing in 2011, she bounced back in 2014 through the documentary, Light Fly, Fly High by Norwegian filmmakers Beathe Hofseth and Susann Ostigard, which was again based on her life story. The documentary won seven international film fest awards.
Firmly holding on to her gloves, Thulasi wants to create a benchmark in women’s boxing and is looking for support. She works at Toneez fitness center and says that her employer, Sriram Vasantharajan, is helping her achieve her dream. “He is backing me and looking for sponsors as well. Though I don’t play for money, right now money is my need,” she says.
Thulasi trains thrice a day and teaches boxing in Nanganallur.