Rishank Devadiga’s story so far has been one of fighting all odds so he could pursue his dream of playing kabaddi.

Born and brought up in Mumbai, Rishank lost his father at an early age and was raised by a single mother who did not want her son to play a sport where he could be hurt. Nonetheless, a young Rishank had his heart set on a game that he said, “excited” him.

"My mom had a big problem because kabaddi is a body contact game and she used to beat me. She told me not to play the sport because she was scared of me getting injured. But when I started getting recognition in kabaddi and started winning best player awards, she used to be happy."

He was first introduced to it by other children in his neighbourhood when he around seven years old, but there was one slight problem – Rishank’s school did not teach kabaddi. Though he did start playing football, Rishank knew his calling was another sport.

"I started playing kabaddi when I was a child. I was 7 or 8 years old. There was no kabaddi in my school, so I had to stick to some other sport. Football was pretty challenging for me. Cristiano Ronaldo being my role model, I had to choose football. But I had 100 percent confidence that if I stick to kabaddi, I’ll reach great heights."

'I Quit My Job for Kabaddi’

“What’s my best quality? I set targets, work extremely hard and make sure I achieve them.” No surprise then that when Rishank decided to quit his job at a hotel, he dedicated all his time to becoming a kabaddi player, and reached great heights in no time. While love for the sport was on one side, Rishank also knew that there was something else he could get by playing kabaddi – a government job.

“When I started playing kabaddi professionally, I played the Mumbai district tournament. After that I got to know a lot about the sport. Like if you play a national tournament, you can get a government job. So I made a target. I used to work in a hotel, I quit my job, and started playing kabaddi on a full-time basis.”

Pro Kabaddi Has Changed Lives

In the Pro Kabaddi League, Rishank Devadiga has been one of the top raiders. He played under the captaincy of Anup Kumar in the first season of the tournament. Bagged by UP Yoddha for Rs 45.5 lakh last year, he is now leading the team in the ongoing season.

"Pro Kabaddi has changed our lives totally, because when we were playing kabaddi locally before the league, there was no recognition and there was no fame for the sport. But after PKL, it has been recognised everywhere and the sport has reached great heights."

Rishank was also a part of the squad that won bronze at the 2018 Asian Games, an experience he said taught the young team the importance of handling pressure situations.

“Before the Asian Games, there was no competition for the Indian team. The Indian team was the number one team in the world. After Pro Kabaddi many other countries have developed their techniques and they’re doing well. In the end, it’s good for the sport that kabaddi is developing so much,” he said.

[With inputs from The Quint]