Kerala's PR Sreejesh earned India a historic bronze in hockey at Tokyo Olympics with his split-second reflexes win the last 7 seconds. Here's the inspiring story behind one of India's finest goalkeepers.
A photo of men’s hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has been going viral on Twitter, where he can be seen perched atop a goalpost with a smile that clearly shows his enthusiasm at having won the bronze medal for his country. So bright is his smile that it’s almost impossible to read the struggle underneath that led him to this moment of glory.
The story of the acclaimed keeper
The seasoned goalie had been inclined towards sports since his school days and swept through football, basketball, volleyball, and other games with graceful ease.
By the age of 12, he had already discovered his calling for hockey. A gateway presented itself when he decided to take the course further – his physical education teacher referred him to GV Raja Sports School in Thiruvananthapuram.
But PR comes from a family of farmers, in a state where hockey was barely heard of back then. It took immense courage to convince them and also maintain faith in his own passion to make a career out of it. “I had never stayed away from [my family], and the day I was to board the train, I broke down. I didn’t want to leave. I am usually a confident boy, but that day, I felt uneasy,” he had once told The Indian Express about the beginning of his journey.
Going further, there were more obstacles to overcome. Field experiences revealed to him that if he was to stick to the sport, goalkeeping was going to be the ideal way to go.
But his father Raveendran revealed the struggle that went into supporting that decision. “I am a farmer and didn’t earn much. Those days, a goalkeeper’s kit would cost Rs 10,000 and we could not afford it. Somehow, we raised enough money, and that included selling our cow,” he said.
The lanky defender had to display a thick skin to such hardships. He did not stop until he became the first hockey player from Kerala to win the prestigious Arjuna Award for his achievements.
Sreejesh made his debut at the 2006 South Asian Games, and just two years later, he was titled ‘Goalkeeper of the Tournament’ at the Junior Asia Cup. He has also played at the Asian Games and in the Hockey World League.
Golden success at the 2014 Asian Games even urged the Kerala government to honour him by naming the road passing along his house as ‘Olympian Sreejesh Road’. “I’m grateful that my deeds will be remembered forever,” he had said to On Manorama. Some would even say that this was the biggest legacy created under the reigning sportsman – the creation of a wave of appreciation among a once judgemental populace.
Today, his momentous defence against a penalty shot by Germany locked the Olympic bronze for India. It was the last seven seconds of the match, and the responsibility of maintaining India’s lead had depended on PR’s shoulders alone. That he is widely known as ‘The Wall’ of India, couldn’t have been proven right in a better way.
We can only imagine the joy and pride his family – who distributed sweets and lit firecrackers in elated celebration – must have felt. Owing his success to his father’s efforts, the veteran told Outlook India, “I just called my dad because he was the reason behind me being here and I just wanted to tell him that I achieved it and this medal goes to my dad.”
Talking about the importance of the win, he said to Olympics.com, “It’s a rebirth. That’s it. It’s been 41 years. In 1980 we won the last medal and after that, nothing. Today when we won it, this gives a boost and energy to the youngsters to pick up hockey [and] play this game.”
Edited by Divya Sethu
Feature Image Source: Instagram