At Balbir Dhesi’s home in Surrey, Canada, a silver mace has place of pride in the living room. The Dhesi, a former Greco Roman wrestling champion, had won the mace at a dangal [wrestling bout] in India. Sharing the space with that mace is eight others won by his sons Amarveer Dhesi and Paramveer Dhesi at bouts organised by the local Indian community. Jostling for the space are the international medals won by Amarveer.
The Dhesi brothers grew up listening to their father’s feats in the Freestyle and Greco Roman styles in India, as well as the Canadian local wrestling circuit in the 1980s. On Friday, Amarveer, 26, won the gold medal in the men’s 125-kg category after a win by fall (9-2) against Pakistan’s Zaman Anwar at Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Back home in Surrey, Dhesi and wife Gurbax Kaur, along with daughter Gulshan Kaur, were cheering for Amarveer.
“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). Amarveer’s gold 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,” said the 72-year-old.
Dhesi, who won the national Greco Roman title in Mangalore before shifting to Canada in 1979, hails from the village Sanghwal in Punjab’s Jalandhar. He used to be a well-known name in dangals and won the Rustam-e-Hind title too. “I loved wrestling in the village dangals 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 carried my silver mace. Both Amarveer and Paramveer would fight to carry it,” shared Dhesi.
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In Canada, he competed in wrestling melas [fairs] known as Chiinj in the Punjabi community. He also formed the Khalsa Wrestling Club at a local park in Surrey in 1985. Later, he would make Paramveer, born in 1994, and Amarveer a year later, wrestle in tournaments organised by the Indian community. Amarveer went on win the Canada Kesari title as a junior.
“Since there were a lot of Punjabis here, I formed the Khalsa Wrestling Club. Most of us would train there. It was years later that we got a facility on rent to train. At that time, I worked in a sawmill 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.
While Paramveer would represent Canada in the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore, Amarveer 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 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. When I lost in the 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 father told me that I am just 20 and there will be more opportunities for me in the future,” Amarveer had told this paper earlier.
Amarveer became the All American champion thrice. 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, respectively. He trained at the Ohio Regional Training Centre, home to some of the best wrestlers in the USA. In 2019, he 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.