Arjan Bhullar’s dream of Olympic gold crosses generations
Arjan Bhullar’s Olympic dream goes back almost 50 years, which is remarkable, since the freestyle wrestler is only 26 years old. Introduced to the sport by his father—an elite wrestler in his native India before immigrating to Canada in the 1970s—on the family’s Richmond farm more than two decades ago, Bhullar has been preparing for this moment ever since. He’s heading to London looking to bring home golden glory for himself, his father, and the community that has helped him get to this point.
Bhullar is blazing a trail as the first Indo-Canadian to represent this country in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics. A gold medallist at the Pan-Am Games two years ago in India, the six-foot, 260-pound grappler hopes to build on that success as he makes his Olympic debut.
And he truly believes the support from those around him—on hand in England and back here at home—will help him reach the top of the podium in London.
“All the emails, the phone calls, the love I’m getting from my Indo-Canadian community is tremendous,” he tells the Straight in a telephone interview between training sessions at the Burnaby Mountain Wrestling Club at SFU. “I’ve had that as I’ve made my way to the top, not just at the top. That’s how you know if you really have support. They are part of my support network. They’ve allowed me to do what I’ve done, and that’s why I’ve made it a top priority of mine to give back to that very same community. I’m a Sikh, and that’s one of the things we have believed in throughout history, is to give back, and I feel it’s my duty to give back to my community because I’ve received so much from the people that support me.”
One of the ways Bhullar knows he can return the overwhelming support is to provide motivation for younger generations, showing them what’s possible and what can be achieved on a wrestling mat or in any given walk of life.
Although he is one, Bhullar doesn’t like to be called a role model; instead, he prefers to challenge himself to inspire others to be their best.
“I’m good at what I do, and I live my life the way I do, but I have faults just like anybody else. I’m not a perfect person,” he says. “But when I was growing up, I looked up to a lot of different people, including wrestlers, and I chose to take the best traits out of every person and I tried to mould myself into the person I am today. If I can inspire somebody else to do what I’m doing and go beyond what I have done, I’m glad to do that. I want to be more than just a wrestler. Inspiration is a better word than role model. I try to be the best wrestler, the best brother, the best son; I try to be the best I can at whatever I do. That’s the way I feel you should approach life. You have to go outside of your comfort zone and push yourself to the limit and beyond. That feeling you get is what life is all about. That’s called living right there.”
Bhullar has been pursuing the dream since he was a toddler, when his father, Avtar, taught him everything he knew about wrestling. The hope of the elder Bhullar was to create a champion, and on August 11, Bhullar will begin the Olympic journey he hopes will see him strike gold in the 120-kilo—or heavyweight—class. And, yes, Avtar will be on hand to watch his son every step of the way.
“I believe it means a tremendous amount to him,” Bhullar says. “He’s not a man of many words, but when you get a pat on the back or a handshake, you know that means a lot more. He was my first coach. It’s been a long journey. I’ve been in this for 26 years, and he was at it for 20 or 30 years before that. He’s proud of what I’ve been able to do, but we’ve got one more step to go here.”
Bhullar came close to qualifying for the Beijing Games four years ago, but he realizes now that he wasn’t fully prepared for the process and admits he wasn’t even sure what the process was. He was raw, with plenty of potential, but he fell just short of making Canada’s team. Since then, he’s grown up, learned a lot about himself and his sport, and put in the effort, training twice a day, six days a week. And when he wasn’t on the mat gearing up for the Games, he was in video sessions, getting a look at the wrestlers he’ll face in London.
It all brings him to this: a moment in time when he’ll have the chance to prove he’s the best in the world at what he does. Without being cocky, Bhullar is confident that his preparation and positive attitude will allow him to rise to the very stiff challenge he’ll soon face.
This is what he was born to do—and even before he came into this world, the dream had been started for him.
“Winning gold would be validation for 26 years of hard work on my end and something that started even before I was born, within the family,” he says. “It would be validation for my entire support network, my team, my country, and everybody who has helped me along the way.”
It’s a journey that truly started out with baby steps, and now Bhullar wants to take a few more short steps up the podium—steps reserved for Olympic champions.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter at @patersonjeff.