Christelle Lemofack Letchidjio starred in an multi award-winning movie about two young women falling into wrestling and ending up Commonwealth Games champions.
Her part in ‘Dangal’, the highest-grossing Indian film ever, was certainly a novel way to feel close to top class sport while personally unable to compete in international competition.
Playing a Nigerian who finishes third to two Indian sisters, Letchidjio’s role in the 2016 smash-hit is one of many chapters in her fascinating story.
Now it is time for her own script, a tale of major success. Scottish Wrestling coaches are confident her long wait to compete for her adopted nation can result in a women’s freestyle medal in Birmingham.
The 31-year-old’s wrestling life began, initially with some reluctance, on the sand surfaces of Cameroon’s biggest city, Douala.
From a family of eight, Letchidjio followed twin brother Omarion into football as a first sporting love from the age of 12.
“When I reached college, my PE teacher Sylvie Mouna said she would like me to try a different sport and suggested wrestling,” she revealed.
“I was like: ‘Nah, I don’t want to fight, I’m okay with football.’ But she insisted.
“I was the only female doing it at that time. We trained on the sand, like a beach, with no mats to teach me basics.
“I didn’t really like it but I could see she thought I had some promise.
“Then we tried the mats, I thought it was more interesting. I trained with her husband, Blaise, and I was learning pretty fast.
“I trained with the men four or five times a week, after my studies, and I got to like it.
“When I lost in a final, that’s when I started giving my all. I realised you have to learn something in defeat, take the positive, take it as a revenge.
“Football is the target sport everyone wants to play in Cameroon, it’s very busy, very competitive. So I gave more energy to wrestling.”
That commitment took Letchidjio as far as fifth place at the 2014 Games in Glasgow, after which she and three other athletes opted to remain in Scotland and apply for asylum.
She wasted little time immersing herself in her discipline, having been diverted towards Tryst Lions Wrestling Club in Cumbernauld.
“In Cameroon wrestling is bigger but, after that, there is not so much,” she said, “I wanted a better life overall.
“The coach, Steven McKeown, opened doors to us from day one, gave us facilities to train, lifts back home to Glasgow, raised funds to support us.
“They were so welcoming. We were invited to spend Christmas with his family. Scottish people are so welcoming.
“I realised in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 that my level was okay but the gap was way too much.
“I wanted to get to the highest level, I needed to improve. There’s no magic to it, it’s hard work.”
That graft has helped her win every national competition in Britain, with an impressive five British gold and four English gold medals.
Letchidjio was unable to compete internationally for Scotland and Great Britain due to only receiving her citizenship this year.
Her natural talent has Scotland’s Team Manager, Vasile Jornea, believing a little more experience against different nations is all that stands between her and a big show in Birmingham.
One ambitious, long-term prediction has been missed along the journey but many more remain within her determined sights.
She revealed: “When I started wrestling and my coach Blaise could see the potential, he said he was sure he’d see me in the 2020 Olympics.
“I kept those words in my mind. A lot has changed since then, and obviously I didn’t make Japan 2020.
“I had to watch the (Gold Coast) 2018 Commonwealth Games too, that was difficult. You feel powerless.
“I wished I was involved. I’ve needed patience, needed work. But I can change targets. My targets keep me going.
“I will hopefully make it to 2024 in France. And now I would like to compete for Scotland in the Games this year.
“I have only wrestled in Cameroon and the UK. 2014 was my first and last international competition. I have been waiting for this for so long.
“Scotland opened its doors for me. I don’t think I will ever be able to give enough back. But I have a lot to give back.
“In my blood is Cameroon, that will never change. But I have to admit Scotland is my home, I feel I have people around me like family here.”
Her strong support network in Glasgow includes Cameroon judo player Marie Effa, Stella Kyalikunda, a recent Women’s Scottish Cup rugby winner with Hillhead Jordanhill, and former Malawian netballer Dolly Gabriel.
Letchidjio is getting back a lot of love from the effort put in to making her new life so rewarding.
She played football on the right wing for Glasgow City until suffering an ACL injury, then started coaching Under-10s.
Letchidjio has one year left on her Electrical Power Engineering course at Glasgow Caledonia University. Her daughter, Precious, was born in October 2019.
Yet still there was time to make her Bollywood breakthrough appearance.
‘Dangal’ tells the true story of India’s remarkable success at women’s freestyle wrestling when hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
A former wrestler, Mahavir Singh Phogat, primes his two daughters for glory despite considerable societal disapproval.
The role for Letchidjio was teed up by Jit Singh Rakhra, Team Leader of England Wresting.
“We travelled to shoot scenes in the cities of Mumbai, New Delhi and Ludhiana, these were three dream trips,” she said.
“The difficult part was ‘wrestling’ with the main actresses. I had to teach them the basics.
“How to stand, to shift, to land. But me, as the wrestler, I had to protect her and cover her and put my hand down when we did the moves but not have it seen on camera.
“One twisted her ankle once in an accident in one of the scenes so we had to come back to finish that one. It was a great thrill and it’s a great story to be part of.”
Article by Fraser Mackie