At Balbir Dhesi’s home in Surrey, Canada, a silver mace won in dangals [wrestling bouts] in India by the former Indian Greco Roman champion adorns the living room, along with seven-eight maces won by his sons Amarveer Dhesi and Paramveer Dhesi in local Indian community competitions, apart from Amarveer’s international medals. The Dhesi brothers grew up listening to their father’s feats in the Freestyle and Greco Roman circuit in India, as well as the Canadian local wrestling circuit in the 1980s. As 26-year-old Amarveer won the gold medal in the men’s 125 kg category after a win by fall (9-2) against Pakistan’s Zaman Anwar, the senior Dhesi and his wife Gurbax Kaur, along with their daughter Gulshan Kaur, were cheering for Canada’s latest medalist in the Commonwealth Games.
“Sade ghar de living room ch mera tan sirf ek Gurj paya hai, baki sare Amarveer te Paramveer de hun (Our living room has only one mace won by me, rest have been won by Amarveer and Paramveer). And with Amarveer winning the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games, it will become the pride of the trophy cabinet. This is a medal for Canada as well for India as that’s where I started wrestling and both the kids have wrestling in their genes,” 72-year-old Balbir Dhesi told The Indian Express.
Dhesi senior, who won the national Greco Roman title in Mangalore before shifting to Canada in 1979, hails from the village Sanghwal in district Jalandhar in Punjab. Apart from competing in national competitions, he was also a well-known name in dangals and won the Rustam e Hind title, apart from winning more than 50 dangals in India.
“I loved wrestling in the village dangals since my childhood and later chose to compete in freestyle as well Greco Roman categories. I fought two-time Asian Games gold medallist Kartar Singh once in the nationals and also competed against Budh Singh. But the real satisfaction for me was winning in front of the huge crowds in the village dangals. When I shifted to Canada, I did take my one silverware mace and both Amarveer and Paramveer would fight to carry it and walk in the hall like they had won the title themselves,” shared Dhesi senior.
Even though he shifted to Canada, his love for wrestling saw him competing in local wrestling melas [fairs] known as Chiinj in the Punjabi community; he would also form the Khalsa Wrestling Club in a local park in Surrey in 1985. With Paramveer being born in 1994 and Amarveer in 1995, Dhesi senior would take his young sons to train in local parks and would also make them wrestle in tournaments organised by the Indian community, sometimes travelling to other Canadian provinces too. A young Amarveer would win the Canada Kesari title as a junior.
“Since there were a lot of Punjabis here, I formed the Khalsa Wrestling Club in a neighborhood park. Most of us would train and also train the kids in the park and it was years later that we got a facility on rent to train. At that time, I worked in a sawmill 8 km far from our home for more than 22 years and would earn about 2000 dollars per month. I would take my sons for training in the morning before work and in the evening after work. Amarveer was very good in dhak and dhobi pachad moves and we worked on these moves a lot,” says Dhesi senior.
While Paramveer would represent Canada in the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore, Amarveer Dhesi would initially compete in both freestyle as well as Greco Roman, and would become the Surrey and national champion in both junior categories. In 2013, he got a full-time scholarship to Oregon State University and would become the Pac-12 champion before finishing fifth in the NCAA Championships, a first for an Indo-Canadian wrestler. After his silver medal in the world junior wrestling championships in Zagreb in 2014, which was later converted to gold as the other finalist tested positive, Amarveer Dhesi suffered a knee injury, but would bounce back to finish as runner-up in the Canadian Olympic team trials in 2015.
“Apart from my father who remains my biggest strength, I grew up admiring other wrestlers like Manjot Sandhu, Gurdeep Beesla and Fido Sahota competing in the Canadian circuit. To be selected for Oregon State University also meant that I would travel to Canada on some weekends to compete in local competitions too apart from playing in the NCAA circuit in the USA. But when I lost in the Canadian team’s trials for the Rio Olympics after being tied 2-2 in the final, I was devastated and wanted to quit the sport. But my coaches and my father told me that I am just 20 and there will be more opportunities for me in the future,” Amarveer Dhesi had told this paper earlier.
Amarveer Dhesi became the All American champion thrice and did his majors in sociology from Oregon State University. In 2017, he would earn a full scholarship to a Division One NCAA team, and finish third and second in NCAA Championships in 2018 and 2019. He trained at the Ohio Regional Training Centre, home to some of the best wrestlers in the USA.
In 2019, Amarveer Dhesi won his spot in the Canadian team for the 2020 Pan American Olympic Qualification tournament and reached the final, sealing a spot in the 125 kg category for the Tokyo Olympics.
“At the university, I was interested in doing my majors in sociology as I was interested in studies of large groups of people and why culture and societies think the way they do and act the way they do. Initially, I wanted to wrestle like my father but then I understood that I have to wrestle in my own way. To win the spot in the Canadian Olympic team and to represent Canada in Tokyo remains special for me,” said Amarveer Dhesi.
While he is usually busy playing in local competitions when he is not attending Wrestling Canada training camps, Amarveer Dhesi loves to watch London Olympics bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt’s wrestling videos, apart from two-time Olympic medallist Taha Akgul of Turkey. “I saw Indian wrestlers like Bajrang Punia compete in Rome Ranking Series and earlier and I loved watching Yogeshwar Dutt’s videos. I am a bit shy to approach Indian wrestlers but then we all share the same love for wrestling,” said Amarveer Dhesi.
For Dhesi senior, his son’s medal will be celebrated by the whole Indian community as well the local community in Surrey once he returns. “When we started, we trained in parks and various buildings before Surrey Municipal Committee allotted us a training hall with two wrestling mats a few years ago. We plan to give Amarveer a grand reception on his return inviting all from the wrestling community as well as local residents,” says Dhesi senior.