Hours after the Indian men’s hockey team created history by defeating Great Britain in the quarter-finals at the Tokyo Olympics, the women’s hockey team demonstrated that they are not far behind. Registering themselves in the annals of history, the Indian women’s hockey team handed out a stunning defeat to Australia and stormed into the semifinals at the leading international sporting competition.
This is the first time that the Indian women’s hockey team qualified for the semifinals after defeating the three-time champions Australia by a solitary goal. India scored the victory goal in the 22nd minute of the match when drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur scored from a penalty corner. India showed immense grit and determination, along with their spectacular defensive might to hold on to the lead through the rest of the match.
The victory is also special because the Indian team was considered as an underdog entering into the quarterfinals. The odds were stacked against them as world No.2 Australia, a mighty unbeaten opponent, awaited them in the last four rounds.
It is also worth noting that the Indian women’s hockey team did not win a single match at the Rio Olympics, qualified for back to back Olympics, lived under stifling lockdown for almost a year and just about scraped by to reach the quarterfinals and knocked out the favourites Australia to reach the semis.
As much inspiring as the victory of the Indian women’s hockey team is, so is the stories of the struggles and the sacrifices made by the players of the team. One of the linchpins of the Indian women’s hockey team is Rani Rampal, who became the youngest player to play for the national team in the 2010 World Cup at the age of 15.
Father could not afford to buy me a hockey stick: Indian women’s hockey captain Rani Rampal shares her inspiring journey
Rampal, the 26-year-old player who leads the Indian hockey team at the Tokyo Olympics, shared her inspiring journey on the Humans of Bombay page recently.
Hailing from a modest background, Rampal did not have the luxury of modern equipment, the latest gears and other facilities to pursue her passion for playing hockey. Her father was a cart puller and her mother house-help and they barely managed to eke out a living in the backwater town of Shahabad Markanda in the Kurukshetra district of Haryana.
“I wanted an escape from my life; from the electricity shortages to the mosquitoes buzzing in our ear, from barely having two meals to seeing our home getting flooded. There was only so much my parents could do — Papa was a cart puller and Maa was a maid,” Rampal recalled while sharing the story of her struggle with the Humans of Bombay.
But, hockey drew her attention after she started spending hours watching the game at a nearby academy. She was fascinated by the sport and instantly took a liking to the game. She approached the coach daily, asking him to teach her the game. But, he would reject her saying she wasn’t strong enough to pull through a practice session.
Armed with no more than steely resolve to learn the sport, she started practising with a “broken hockey stick”. Her determination and dedication to the game finally helped her to convince the coach to teach her the sport.
Rampal developed an interest in hockey once she started spending hours watching the game at a nearby academy. “Every day, I’d ask the coach to teach me. He’d reject me saying, ‘You aren’t strong enough to pull through a practice session.’ So, I began practising with a broken hockey stick-I used to run around in a salwar kameez. But I was determined,” she said, adding that she finally managed to convince the coach too.
However, Rampal’s family was not in the favour of watching their daughter play in a skirt. But Rani was not going to let societal stereotypes come in the way of her dreams. She repeatedly implored her family to let her go for the practice. She even promised her family of following whatever they would ask her to do if she failed in hockey. Eventually, her family gave in.
Describing her training regime, Rampal said her training started early in the morning but since she had no clock at their home, her home used to look at the sky to check if it was time to wake her up.
She added, “At the academy, it was mandatory for each player to bring 500 ml of milk. My family could only afford milk worth 200 ml; so I’d mix the milk with water and drink it.”
She further said that her family could not afford to buy her hockey kits and shoes and help her maintain the dietary requirements. So, the coach stepped in and took care of the needs, she added. “I wouldn’t miss a single day of practice. I remember I won Rs 500 at a tournament and gave the money to Papa. He hadn’t ever held so much money in his hands. I promised my family, ‘One day, we’ll have our own home’; I did everything in my power to work towards that.”