Odisha-based Rugby champ, Sumitra Nayak, 19, is to spearhead the Indian team in Asia Rugby U-20 Women’s Seven Series, to be held in Vientiane, Laos on August 24 and 25. Sumitra hails from Jajpur, popularly called ‘Rugby Rani’ at her native place, is all set to lead the Indian women’s team. The other four players who are selected from Odisha are Ranjani Sabar, Soni Mandangi, Parbati Kisku and Lija Sardar.

Recently Indian senior women’s rugby team brought back home a silver after missing the top place by a whisker to Philippines (12-19) in the final of the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy, held in Jakarta on August 9 and 10. Sumitra Nayak played a key role in the team’s winning streak.

Abusive father

Born into poverty, this Odisha champ is surviving through a financial crunch. The rugby player was born in a financially challenged family which barely survives on two-square meals a day. Having been beaten up by a drunkard father, almost everyday, Sumitra had seen tough days. She loathed the days when her father returned home late and often abused her mother, Gayatri, too. One day the limit was crossed and her mother moved out of the house with Sumitra and the siblings to Bhubaneswar. Sumitra was only four years old at that time.

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The new city and its sumptuous lifestyle which was much different than in her village, Gayatri, initially struggled for a job. Eventually, she took up a job as a household help for long hours and gathered the strength to provide basic facilities to her children.

It was at her job when one day Gayatri found out about Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) and its facilities, and enrolled Sumitra in 2008. For Sumitra the name ‘Rugby’ struck as interesting and soon the girl from the slums was very interested in the sport.

Sumitra loved physical sports but couldn’t play any games in the village. Girls in her village were not given that freedom but fortunately for Sumitra, moving out of a toxic society and having a support in her mother really helped her follow her heart.

Sumitra started Rugby practice in 2009

Sumitra loved physical sports but couldn’t play any games in the village. Girls in her village were not given that freedom but fortunately for Sumitra, moving out of a toxic society and having a support in her mother really helped her follow her heart.

When she started rugby practice in 2009, mastering the skills was becoming tougher everyday. She could not give up on her dream and that determination and her coach Rudrakesh Jena made a credible player out of her. In 2012, she played her first State match. Two years later, she participated in the U-13 Women’s Rugby World Cup, followed by the National Championship and the National School Games. She helped her team clinch bronze medal in the Asian Girls Rugby Sevens (U-18) held in Dubai last year.

“I think my coach Nasser (Hussain) sir liked my leadership quality and so I was chosen the skipper. It was a pleasant surprise,” Sumitra had said earlier, kiss.ac.in reported. She is a Political Science Honours graduate from the same institute and is fondly called as ‘Rugby Rani (queen)’ by Dr Achyuta Samanta.

At 17, Sumitra was one of the 10 Indian kids nominated for International Children’s Peace Prize 2017.

“It was love at first sight with rugby for her. Though she loved physical sports, she couldn’t play any games in the village, because girls were not given that freedom. Even if she showed interest, the villagers would comment that sport is not for girls. Fortunately for Sumitra, she had the backing of her mother, who asked her to break the notions of the society and follow her heart,” her institute claimed, NDTV reported.

Also Read: Meet Irtiqa Ayoub, The Shining Rugby Star From Kashmir

TEDx speaker

Previously the skipper of the Under-18 India women’s rugby team, Sumitra was also invited to deliver a Ted Talk in Pune and was introduced as a ‘dreamer, achiever and a trend setter.’

On how life has changed post Rugby, Sumitra said, “I don’t know if my life has changed. I rather feel rugby has given meaning to my life. In fact, for me, rugby is life.”

Sumitra, the Coach

Sumitra has overcome a lifetime’s worth of challenges. Now she inspires and teaches rugby to girls in school. At KISS, she was offered free education and housing. “I loved how rugby combined strength and showmanship,” she said, edexlive.com reported.

Girls never play sports in my village but I found it easy because I had an amazing coach who supported me throughout,” she added.

In 2014, Sumitra led her team to victory at the Touraid Under 13 Girls International Rugby Tournament in London. Talking about pursuing the coach’s hat she claimed, “Most girls I know receive no support from their families and there is no one to train or hone our skills in schools. Because I got the opportunity myself, I want to train juniors at KISS and in my village by setting up a model of it in my village.”

“My vision of this world is where every child grows up to be a change-maker continuously aims to solve problems around them and gets to build empathy as a skill. This will change the world!” she roars.

Feature Image Credit: Orissa Diary

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