The captain of Indian women’s hockey team, Rani Rampal, recently steered the team to victory at the Asia Cup 2017. Her sensational goal in the 58th minute of the finals secured India’s thumping 4-1 win against China.
The unassuming Rampal turns into a smart player on the hockey field, motivating the entire team to put their best foot forward.
Growing up in the small town of Shahabad Markanda in Kurukshetra district of Haryana, Rampal has come a long way. For girls of the region, getting into sports is a big thing. The Shahbad Hockey Academy was a boon for girls like Rampal. This became the base for Rampal’s passion right from a very young age. Her only goal was to play for the Indian team at least once in her life. Today, Shahbad Hockey Academy is especially known for training Indian women.
“Fifteen years back, there was nothing like women playing sports. Today, a lot of those notions have changed and many girls are playing sports from my state. But it was very difficult for me to start playing hockey in those days,” Rampal told SheThePeople.TV
The 22-year-old explained, “When I started playing and since my town had an academy to teach women hockey, that really helped in developing my interest. There were about seven-eight women who were in the national team at that time and looking up to them inspired me to choose this sport. But it is also true that I didn’t know what an Indian team was and how one gets selected in the team.”
Talking about her family, Rampal revealed, “My father was a cart-puller and it was very difficult for me to convince them to let me play hockey. In the beginning, my parents used to say that they cannot afford my hockey needs. But I always asked them to give me one chance to play and that one day I will definitely make them proud.”
She attributes her success to her coach, Baldev Singh. “It was he who really helped me with providing hockey sticks, kit etc. Even the seniors at the academy helped me a lot. In the same way, now we help our juniors,” she said.
There was also stigma about girls playing outside in those days. “My relatives and neighbours used to tell my parents that she is a girl, if you let her go outside, then she will bring a bad name to your family. I have two elder brothers who also discouraged me from playing hockey. I was so young that I didn’t know how to handle these things. But I always knew that I cannot break my parents’ trust on me. That I had to do something good in my life for them. I trained hard for that and there are so many others who also contributed equally to my success today.”
Her first tournament
Rampal took up the hockey stick at the tender age of seven. Eight years later at 15, she became the “The Top Goal Scorer” and the “Young Player of the Tournament” at the Champion’s Challenge Tournament held in Kazan, Russia, in June 2009. This was Rampal’s first international tournament with the Indian team. It was also the qualifiers for the hockey team for London Olympics 2012, for which they didn’t make the cut.
However, this didn’t dampen Rampal’s spirit. She was ecstatic to play with the Indian team and had no idea what Olympics meant at that time.
“It was very interesting for me when I first debuted with the national team. I didn’t know the magnitude of Olympics and what an honour it is to participate in the event. I was actually very happy just to play with the Indian team, but there were many seniors in the team who were about to retire. So when we lost, they cried a lot. But since I didn’t know the value of Olympics, I couldn’t understand their sorrow.”
“In the next four years, when I played a bit more with the Indian team, we again played an Olympics qualifier in Delhi and we lost again. This time, I understood its value. I was at a hotel and I remember crying the whole night outside my room and at that point, I realized what a big deal Olympics is,” reminisced Rampal.
It is in the women’s Hockey World League semi-finals in Antwerp, Belgium, in 2015 that the team qualified for the Rio Olympics 2016 after a long gap of 36 years. “I had both the previous tournaments in my mind while playing in the World League. I thought so many players have gone by without qualifying. If we didn’t do it, then who would?”
ALSO READ: Why You Should Know Rani Rampal
Changing relatives’ mindset
Explaining how her success has changed people’s perspective, Rampal said, “My biggest moment of happiness comes from the fact that the neighbours and relatives who used to say all sorts of bad things about me have now changed their mindset completely after seeing my growth in the game. They are now putting their own daughters for hockey training and that fills me up with pride.”
On her inspirations, the Indian captain revealed, “When I started playing hockey, at that time, our former captain, Surinder Kaur also belonged to Shahbad. Today, she is DSP in Haryana Police. I took a lot of inspiration from her. And in international players, there was an Argentinean player, Luciana Aymer, and I really liked her game.”
Her stint as captain
2017 is the year of achievements in many ways for Rampal. It is the year she led the team in many championships and showed tremendous leadership skills. About becoming captain for the first time, the striker says, “I never thought I would become the captain of the Indian team. I actually just wanted to play to the best of my abilities, so the news came as a surprise to me. But it was also a proud moment as you realize that you are going to lead your country.”
“While it is a huge responsibility to take on captaincy, it becomes a joy-ride if the players are really good and playing well. Currently, the juniors are doing really well in the game,” is how she described her team.
Her next goals
“Next year is very important for us. We have Commonwealth, World Cup and Asian Games in 2018 so we are preparing for these three major tournaments. We have to perform well in these tournaments and bring medals back to the country.”
Rampal explained how she initially strived hard for her family. “I wanted to build a pucca house for my family because we lived in a mud house and I always worked hard for that. I feel really happy that in the years of playing hockey, I am able to fulfil these dreams.”
“When women win laurels, it fills the whole country with pride and we need more of that to happen”- Rani Rampal
Why women should play sports
“I feel not just women, our entire young generation should play some sports in their lives and every school should have a sports culture. Because when we are young, we don’t know anything about sports and the avenues it opens up for us.”
“When women win laurels, it fills the whole country with pride and we need more of that to happen,” is Rampal’s advice to budding sportspersons.
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