Sitting on the bed in his hospital room at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences in New Delhi, Dingko Singh may have many worries but he wears his burden lightly. The 42-year-old from Manipur -- one of the finest ever boxers from India -- is waiting for his test results that could potentially confirm a relapse of the liver cancer that he successfully overcome three years ago. He has been undergoing the tests for two weeks now, having been admitted after being diagnosed with jaundice in his home town of Sekta, near Imphal.
Dingko is optimistic about his health. He's relatively active inside the small room, moving sprightly from the bed for attendants to one meant for him in order to make space for visitors. In contrast to his struggle three years ago, where he had to sell his house in order to fund his treatment, he's been supported by the government, his employers -- the Sports Authority of India (SAI), where he works as a coach -- and fellow athletes.
"I've dealt with worse," he says. He remarks that he still feels strong in comparison to previous times. "When I was fighting against cancer, I lost so much weight," says Dingko. "I was weighing around 54kg, the same that I did when I was competing in the Asian Games. Now I'm in a much higher weight class. It's better this way."
But Dingko is frustrated at being confined to his room because it keeps him from what his considers his main goal -- creating fresh boxing talent. "When I was really sick with cancer, it was a real struggle to stay positive," he says. "At that time the doctors said I needed to find a way to stay motivated. For me that motivation was to produce an Olympic medal for India. I kept telling myself that. I had to get better and get back to coaching."
Dingko might have won the first Indian gold medal in 16 years at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998 but he wants to be remembered for the players he coaches. He has coached the Navy and then the Services boxing teams following his retirement from competitive boxing in 2006 and has been coaching at SAI since 2013, once he retired from the Navy.
"I couldn't win an Olympic medal myself and that was always one of my life's regrets," he says. 'But I will create one Olympic medal winner for India for the 2024 Olympics. When I was really sick, it was that dream that kept me motivated. I kept telling myself that I had to get better and get back to coaching."
Dingko has had his share of coaching success. He has coached world champion Sarita Devi early in her career, but more recently he's optimistic about the prospects of another young Manipuri. "One of my boxers, Rebika Devi, won a bronze medal in the 51kg category in the Khelo India games in Guwahati in January," he says. "That made me very happy."
Rebika is in the national camp in New Delhi by virtue of her medal at the Khelo India games and she has taken the time out to come and visit her coach in his hospital room. And while Dingko is happy she has met him, he's frustrated that he isn't coaching in Imphal.
While his passion is undeniable, Dingko's wife Babai Devi, wonders if he hasn't been pushing himself too hard. "His desire for coaching was what motivated him through his cancer but once he recovered he was always trying to go to Imphal to coach," she says. "Even when he used to get sick he would take a paracetamol and go there. He refused to take leave. It was only when he got jaundice that he stopped."
For Dingko, there can be no other way though. Even on his bed, he's thinking about getting back to Imphal and resuming his coaching duties. "This hospital stay is costing me time that I should be spending helping young boxers," he says. "I'm not finished just yet. I have to produce one Olympic medallist for India."