Over the last couple of weeks, one particular name grabbed the headlines and that was Indian women’s hockey team’s striker Lalremsiami, as she proved her commitment to the sport. The 19-year-old received praise from across the nation because of her decision to stay back and be an integral part of the FIH Women's Series Finals in Hiroshima last month. She took this decision despite receiving news of her father's demise due to heart attack before the crucial match. Even though her first instinct was to fly back home immediately — she decided to play for the country as it was a crucial game that would determine whether the side's 2020 Tokyo Olympics dream stays alive. There is a great reason to cheer for her as the team has qualified for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers 2019 after securing a place in the final of the competition, all thanks to the victory backed by Lalremsiami.
SheThePeople.TV talks to Mizo-based Lalremsiami in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
Describe your childhood and what inspired you to become a hockey player?
I am from Kolasib which is around 80kms from Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. I was always inclined towards sports and games as a child and enjoyed the support of my family when I finally decided to take up hockey. In Mizoram, football is a popular sport but I was attracted to hockey because of the skill that’s needs with the stick and I always loved trying different manoeuvres while tackling. Seeing my interest in the sport, my father on being promoted by my school sent me to the Thenzawl Hockey Training centre where I had spent five years. I was selected by the National Hockey Academy in New Delhi in 2016 and the same year I got to play for the U-18 team in the Asia Cup.
What were the challenges you overcame before making it big?
The biggest challenge for me was to balance my finances and my passion. That was because although my parents encouraged me to pursue hockey but they didn't exactly have the finance to support my career. I was lucky in a way to get selected for the National Hockey Academy but I remember my parents didn't have enough money to give me as pocket money when I left for New Delhi. My mother still supported me with whatever little she had saved from the daily expenses of the house. I've been very fortunate that way to have seniors like Rani Rampal who have supported me whenever there was a need to spend money and I didn't have to ask my parents.
"My immediate feeling was to return home and give my father one last hug. But I was reminded of his words; he really wanted to see me play the Tokyo Olympics."
You lost your father before the big game and yet won the Semi-finals and Finals with Team India. It was a big decision to miss his funeral. Tell us about the moment.
It is still too early for me to speak about it without breaking down. I received a call from home on Friday (June 21) morning which was our rest day before the Semi-final. It came as a complete shock to me because he had no health issues. I remember crying the whole time but my teammates were extremely supportive and I also received many messages from friends and fans that gave me strength. My immediate feeling was to return home and give my father one last hug. But I was reminded of his words; he really wanted to see me play the Tokyo Olympics. He had wished our team the best when we left from India and had told me that we must qualify. It was his last dream for me and I wanted to play for him, for my team. And it was very heartening to see everyone put in more than 100 per cent to ensure we won the tournament and Rani didi also dedicated this win to me, my father.
What's the next step for the team? How do you see the challenges in the upcoming tournaments?
We will return to the National Coaching Camp on 15 July 2019 and train for the next tournament which will be an Olympic Test event in Japan. After winning the FIH Series Final in Hiroshima, the team's confidence is high and we know we are steadily working towards peaking at the right moment, at the right event. Every tournament we play now will be focused on winning the Olympic Qualification tournament later this year.
"I've not faced criticism of any kind and the people of Mizoram have shown me their love and support by turning out in huge numbers to welcome me after winning Silver at the Asian Games in Jakarta last year."
Since you belong from a traditional background, do you face any criticism and discouragement from the society?
I've been fortunate to have the support of my family to take up hockey as a career. I've not faced criticism of any kind and the people of Mizoram have shown me their love and support by turning out in huge numbers to welcome me after winning Silver at the Asian Games in Jakarta last year.
Over the years, how do you see the change in the landscape for young women in sports?
I think things are looking up now for young women in sports. One can definitely carve a niche for themselves if they keep at it and work hard. There is also employment through sports quota and that's one of the big assurances we have if we succeed at the national and international level.
How did your life change after being recognised internationally?
It is a very overwhelming change. I was very touched by the number of people who turned up to lend support to my family in this time of grief. The entire village was there when I arrived at home. I feel an equal sense of responsibility as they look up to me like I am their hero.
What have you learned from your fellow international players?
There is so much that I have learnt from my seniors and peers in the Indian Hockey Team. Each one of them has beaten different odds to reach where they are today. I draw a lot of strength and courage from each one of them. They have been extremely patient with me as I was the youngest in the team and I did not know how to speak in Hindi or English. Though I had 'learn to speak Hindi and English in 40 days' books with me in my hostel room and would look for translation from Hindi to Mizo when they would converse with me, I've come a long way as I am comfortable in both these languages now. My teammates had taken it upon themselves to teach me one new English and Hindi word each day during our camp. This really helped me improve my languages over the past two years and whenever I had difficulty in understanding what the Coach is saying I would always turn to Rani, our Captain and also my roommate who has guided me a lot.
How is the hockey scene in India for women? Especially in Mizoram.
I feel things are changing and there is quite a lot of scope for hockey in the country with the Federation organising regular tournaments and equal benefits and training facilities for both men and women. Also, since the time our team has been doing well and winning tournaments, the latter has increased and so has the recognition. I feel if we win consistently and win in big tournaments then more young people will be drawn towards pursuing the sport just like what happened with badminton following Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu's success at the Olympics.
“The only thing lacking in our country is that many Indian parents still don't allow their children to pursue sports as a career choice. I hope to see this change”
Your message to young girls
Stay committed to your goals and work hard. Don't let anything come in the way of what you want to achieve.
What drives you towards the profession? What does it mean to you?
There is no better feeling than success especially when it's backed by solid teamwork. My teammates are my biggest inspiration and motivation.
What do you think India lacks in terms of appreciating sports?
I can speak of hockey and we have nothing lacking in terms of funding or support. We train at the best facility which is on par with international standards and have been appreciated and recognised by the Federation, SAI and the Govt. every time we have done well. Even when we travel outside the country for tournaments, our comforts and requirements have always been taken care of. The only thing lacking in our country is that many Indian parents still don't allow their children to pursue sports as a career choice. I hope to see this change.
Do you face gender discrimination in the industry?
I've never faced this personally but I have heard of stories from my teammates especially from places like Haryana and Punjab where a girl child is not allowed to play sports.