On Sunday, the Indian women’s hockey team clinched the FIH Women’s Series Finals defeating Japan 3-1 on their home turf of Hiroshima.
It was an emphatic win marked by two goals from drag-flicker, Gurjit Kaur, and one from the captain, Rani Rampal.
This win is the latest in a series of a successful run by the Indian women’s hockey team, which began with them qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics after a 36-year hiatus.
The team won a gold medal in the Asia Cup 2017 and Silver at the 2018 Asian Games, and in January 2019, they defeated Spain, ranked Number 7, by a record 5-2 margin during a tour, besides beating other notable teams like Ireland and Malaysia.
“In the last few years, we have graduated from [a] defensive game to attacking game. We are playing much faster hockey than we used to a few years back and that has been possible due to a balanced team (comprising experienced and fresh talent), and a supportive staff,” says Rani Rampal, speaking to Forbes India.
Even if they had not won the recent FIH Women’s Series Finals on Sunday, these women were already winners, and it’s not because the 9th seed Indian team had qualified for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers on Saturday after defeating Chile in the semi-finals.
It is because some of these women have overcome incredible odds in life to reach where they are today. Here are five women from the hockey team whose life stories should inspire you every day.
The 19-year-old striker from Mizoram played the semi-final against Chile the day after her father, Lalthansanga Zote, passed away on Friday morning after a heart attack.
The team’s head coach Sjoerd Marijne had given her the option of flying back home to attend her father’s funeral, but Lalremsiami had other ideas.
“She told me, ‘I want to make my father proud. I want to stay, play and make sure that the team qualifies,’” Marijne told DNA.
“Every player went and hugged Siami after the match. It is not easy to deal with a big loss at such a young age. And even though she didn’t score, she gave everything for the team. Indians should be proud of Siami,” he added.
Mind you, when Lalremsiami joined the team, she could barely speak English or Hindi. She communicated with her teammates initially through hand gestures, before picking up both languages with assistance from her teammates and self-help books.
2) Deep Grace Ekka
Deep Grace Ekka in action. (Source: Hockey India)Meet the 25-year-old defender from a remote village in the district of Sundergarh, Odisha.
Ekka hails from a district that has produced many of India’s finest hockey players, including the likes of Dinesh Tirkey, and her source of inspiration was her brother, Dinesh, a professional hockey player himself.
However, this farmer’s daughter had to tackle abject poverty to pursue her ultimate passion.
Speaking to Mint, Ekka said, “No one ever told me ‘don’t play hockey.’ My parents told me that they would do anything to make sure I became a player. It would have been trouble if I didn’t become one.”
She was 13 when coaches at the Odisha government-run Sundargarh Sports Hostel, which is one of the three leading hockey training centres in the state, spotted her talent. She hasn’t looked back since.
3) Sushila Chanu
The 27-year-old halfback from Imphal, Manipur, has over 150 caps to her name. This daughter of a driver and homemaker began playing the sport at the age of 11 after much encouragement from her uncle. It was her uncle who got her enrolled at the Posterior Hockey Academy in Manipur in 2002.
However, she nearly gave it all up after she wasn’t picked for the state.
“I didn’t think it would go too far, so I almost quit. But senior players urged me to get back,” she tells Hindustan Times. The rest, as they say, is history. A soft-spoken individual, Chanu has worked as a ticket collector in the Central Railways since 2010, a position she obtained through the sports quota. She currently represents the Railway Sports Promotion Board.
4) Nikki Pradhan
This 25-year-old midfielder from Hesel village in Jharkhand’s Khunti district, is the first woman hockey player in the state to participate in the Olympics.
However, for this daughter of a police constable and homemaker, playing the sport initially brought many fears.
According to her former coach Dasrath Mahato, she was scared of playing hockey because of fears that the stick may one day break her leg.
“A deep fondness for the game is also what saw Jharkhand’s Nikki Pradhan, 25, through in her early years, when she was asked to vacate her hostel in Bariatu, Jharkhand, in 2008 without any explanation. But word about her proficiency had reached other coaches who gave her a smaller accommodation in another hostel,” says this report in Forbes India.
Getting evicted out of India’s best hockey coaching institutes for women for no reason must have been a terrible setback, but she never gave up. Today, she too represents the Railways Sports Promotion Board.
5) Sunita Lakra
Lakra is a 28-year-old defender from Rajgangpur, Odisha, and was only six years old when her father, a farmer, almost forced her to join the Sports Authority of India facility in Rourkela, to learn hockey.
“Actually in our locality in Rajgangpur most of the boys and girls are addicted to football. My father thought playing football is riskier. Hockey, comparing to football is safer. So he forced me to learn hockey at the SAI hostel,” she told Bhubaneswar Buzz.
“Her father was a farmer. Sunita also had three elder brothers and mother. So her father was, as usual, struggling with poverty,” says her coach at SAI, who spotted her talent, speaking to the same publication. She arrived at the selection trial with a hockey stick made of bamboo. Today, she has over 100 caps for India.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)