Arjan Bhullar – Born to Compete
By Aman Grewal and Renu Singh
At 26-years-old, this award-winning wrestler is living his dream and set to compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games
According to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist – “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure,” and there is no room for failure in his life. He has won three gold medals, one silver and one bronze. He has travelled all over the world. In 2010, he took part in the Commonwealth Games and brought home the gold. In 2012, he will represent Canada in the London 2012 Olympic Games. More importantly, he has accomplished all of this at the age of 26. We have all been introduced to the wrestler behind the man; now let’s meet the man behind the wrestler.
Arjan Bhullar is part of a legacy that began before he was even born. He is the son of Avtar Bhullar, who himself was a wrestler and also attended the Commonwealth Games. He has two siblings: Jora, an older brother, who is attending law school and Jasmin, his younger sister, who is a student and teaches yoga. Arjan is the youngest of 10 cousins, who have all dabbled in the art of wrestling; clearly, wrestling is part of his genetic makeup. It seems before Arjan could learn to walk, he learned how to wrestle.
He has always followed in his father’s footsteps at an early age, whereas Jora was always more studious. Although, both brothers have always been quite athletic, they have always been polar opposites, “When we were kids, I’d rather horse around and he would rather read a book,” adds Arjan. In high school, Arjan was focused on sports that were popular, such as basketball and football. After Grade 10, Arjan became more serious about wrestling, even though he loved to play sports in general, he found a stronger pull towards wrestling.
“I grew up as an athlete, I was always big for my age and I liked to play around. But my goal was always to be the best. My parents never told me to be average. I always had to be great at whatever I did,” says Arjan. “Basketball cancelled itself out because I couldn’t be a beast; whatever I lacked in height, I made up in size.”
Growing up and being larger in size for his age, Arjan was always taught to stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Being a wrestler, I was curious about Arjan’s opinion on bullying – “I am against violence,” says Arjan, adding “but I also think too many people nowadays baby kids too much. They have to learn to stand up for themselves. If someone is bullying you; you can’t have a teacher or a parent always protecting you at all times.”
Throughout his travels, Arjan has interacted with diverse people, and ventured from one side of the ocean to the next and from poor to rich countries. He has also observed 8/9-year-olds who have the ‘street smarts’ of an adult, as they have learned to take care of themselves because of the environment they have grown up in.
“Kids here are at a disadvantage because they are protected so much. We are baby-sat here, always pampered,” says Arjan. “But those kids who have grown up in tough situations, they are going to be more successful because they know how to hustle and take care of themselves.”
Nature vs. nurture is a long-standing dilemma, and he believes children should get into sports that help them physically, but more importantly, builds their confidence. He says, “You should have a balance; you should not be babied through everything so you can learn to fend for yourself. I was raised that way, my parents didn’t baby me. It was hard on them but I am grateful for that because they pushed me out there and let me fall.” As a result, letting him fall taught Arjan how to get back up.
Arjan believes in creating balance in life; too much of anything is not a good thing. He takes inspiration from all those around him. Arjan is following in the footprints that his dad set out for him, but he can’t say he has only one role model. He likes to pick and choose different personalities for different aspects of his life.
Avtar Bhullar, aside from being Arjan’s father, is also his first coach. “I look up to my dad, he was still training when I was in diapers, so I would watch him train. My dad is a strong guy, he is very old school. My dad helped me with that, he helped build my base and my competitive spirit.” Aside from his dad, Muhammad Ali was a big influence in Arjan’s life, as he “transcended the sport and he stood for something greater than the sport itself.”
However, his life coach is his mother Salindran. Like they say, behind every successful man is a woman; and that woman for Arjan is his mom. She’s helped become his buffer when he’s feeling under pressure, and he says his mom doesn’t get enough recognition which she rightfully deserves, “people focus on my dad because he was a wrestler but my mom is also a very tough woman.” Arjan remembers, “as I was growing up, she would never let me be soft or make excuses. She always held me accountable, and whatever I would start, she would make me finish.”
Salindran is a yoga teacher and she meditates for an hour every morning and believes that “to be the best at what you do, you have to be mentally, physically and spiritually one.” She helps Arjan always remember the bigger picture: “It’s all a journey. The sport is not bigger than you. When you are abroad, it’s not just about you.” He goes on to say that his mother is someone he can talk to, and “whenever I fall down, she’s always there to help me, whereas my dad is all about tough love – they represent Ying and Yang.”
Arjan has indefinable respect for his parents, as they shaped the man he is today. He finds today’s generation (people younger than him) are “always trying to run away from their parents, as well as our culture. But these kids have what no one else has – parents who love them until the end. I find kids take advantage of that, especially the guys.” Balance in life is everything, “the boys mess up as much as they want and the parents will take them back. If the girls mess up once, they are dead to them. I don’t agree with that.” Arjan believes in embracing your culture and celebrating your roots, but to also incorporate the mainstream culture.
Although wrestling is a one-man sport, it takes a team and unconditional family support from his parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins to get Arjan ready to compete. He feels he’s been lucky to have the right people around him, and the right influences throughout his life. He has had to make sacrifices throughout his life but “I always had a bigger picture in mind. You have sacrifice to get to where you are.”
Arjan says wrestling is the most competitive and toughest sport in the world. “What I love about wrestling is not the sport, I was born to compete. I used to get beat up by my older cousins when I was growing up, and everything was competitive; my dad and family all instilled that spirit in me. I don’t like to lose.”
He goes on to say “I love the competition, that’s why I love wrestling because there is no team, its one-on-one, there are no excuses when you win or when you lose. All eyes on me, that’s the way I like it. It’s no equipment; you wear a colour, your opponent wears a colour and you go at it. You can’t blame it on any technical issues, it’s as wild as it gets.”
“We think it’s important to give back everywhere. We do believe in tithing, giving 10 percent of your income and time. For us, tithing goes in every direction, its not just monetary, it’s not just of time, it’s of your knowledge and whatever you can give,” says Salindran.
There are a few projects that Arjan and his family are embarking on in India, which include the following: Salindran has been hosting workshops to educate and empower women and children through lectures, yoga and discussions; after the Commonwealth games, the family built a state-of-the-art gym next to their village school to promote fitness, active living and health among children, the gym is free and accessible to everyone; Arjan’s father and uncle are working on a large-scale construction project to remove a harmful sewage and garbage pit in their village and create sewage pipes, running from homes, to a giant septic tank for the entire village, this project will not only provide an adequate sewage system for the village, but increase the overall health and well being of villagers; and lastly, the family is creating and will maintain a fully-landscaped park in the village, as they want to offer a green space for villagers to walk and enjoy their daily lives.
Through her workshops, Salindran strived to raise greater awareness and understanding on a number of issues: exercise and yoga, healthy eating and organics and overall consciousness. Arjan adds to this sentiment by saying the children they encountered in India did not know how to dream about the future, which was shocking to him. They aimed to instil the concept of the importance of dreams and to follow their dreams for what they wanted to achieve in future life.
“I come from a background, where I believe the most important role in the family is the mother, solid and grounded, who is able to hold everything together and bring what needs to be brought into this world,” says Salindran. “I think it’s really important to educate women, by educating the women, we can educate the men, then of course if they have children, the next generation will also be educated and consciously living as well.”
Arjan is a member of the national “Esteem Team,” which is a federally-funded program comprised of professional athletes from all sports, who mentor and motivate children from Grade 1 to 12 across Canada. He loves to interact with the children, and says there are times when the students are serious, so he tries to connect with them by creating a lighter mood by being his “goofy self and cracking jokes” to put the children at ease.
“There are a few messages I talk to students about. Firstly, dream and dream big! I tell them about my journey. I emphasize that it’s okay to be different, I know that’s a big issue in high school. I love to stand out, wherever I go, I would rather be the one guy who sticks out rather than be the guy in the crowd. It’s okay to be different, be confident in yourself, for me, sports was my avenue to get that confidence at that age.”
Furthermore, this star athlete is a spokesperson for the federally and provincially funded “Ending Violence Against Women” campaign. He says “I was honoured I was selected.” Arjan, along with some of the BC Lions players, attended a 3-day seminar of education and training to learn about the issue to not only increase their knowledge, but to enable them to effectively discuss and create awareness about the issue.
“It’s a huge issue in our community. The goal of the campaign was to get male alpha dogs to talk to other men. I was excited to participate, as I’m always looking to do something that gives back and makes a difference,” he says.
With the goal to create awareness, the campaign distributes pamphlets in Punjabi and English in communities across BC and Canada; the athletes speak about ending violence against women in schools and other forums; and some like Arjan participate in public service announcements.
Arjan says it was a great learning experience and echoes the campaign’s slogan “It’s not okay to do nothing, end violence against women.”
Arjan is ready to compete in the upcoming London 2012 Olympic Games, which runs from July 27 to August 12. He is the first Indo-Canadian to qualify for freestyle wrestling in the Olympics, and he is now getting mentally prepared to compete for the gold medal.
“To be a successful athlete, you need to believe in a higher power and be a good person,” Arjan says. He expresses his heartfelt thanks to his large support network for “always keeping everything in perspective, it’s not only about winning, but what you can do for others.” He thanks his entire family for keeping him focused, for training with him and for the enduring support over the years.
Speaking with Avtar, Arjan’s father, you can hear the pride in his voice, “What else can a father ask for? Following in my footsteps is something that every father’s dream is – it’s just a great feeling.” He goes on to say “Wrestling is a second generation sport for our family, we have spent many years in this sport and it was our goal to send one of our family member this far [Olympic Games]. Arjan has made it and the whole family is very excited and happy.”
With his determination, strength, charisma, focus and generous nature, Arjan has the capability and skill set to succeed at anything he does, including going for gold in London.
“It’s a big deal to be on the national team, quite an honour. I get to do what I love, travel and see the world,” says Arjan, adding “I am living my dream every day, and I would not change any of it – I am exactly where I want to be. Every morning I wake up, I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. If I die tomorrow, I’ll have no regrets.”
• 5-time World Team member
• 2008 SFU Athlete of the Year
• 2009 Canada Wrestler of the Year
• 2010 Commonwealth Games Gold medalist
o Team Canada’s lone Gold Medal winner at 2010 event
o 1st ever Indo Canadian to win such a tournament
• 2012 Olympic Bound
o 1st ever Indo Canadian to qualify for the Olympics in freestyle wrestling
• Simon Fraser University student; Political Science Major
• Philanthropist with hands-on community involvement with:
o Spokesperson for the federally and provincially funded “Ending Violence
Against Women” campaign
o A member of the national program “Esteem Team” – motivating children to
achieve their goals
o Help build and develop the Bhullar Sports Academy
o Built a gym next to the local school in his family’s village in India, which is free and accessible to everyone