Hailing from a small town, Shahabad, the then 7-year-old Rani Rampal, had always dreamt of playing Hockey for India and proudly waving the flag of her country across the world. What must have seemed like impossibility back then did finally come true?
Sailing through the difficult tide
Rani Rampal, whose on-going career spans nearly a decade in Hockey, couldn’t have made it this far without the support of her family members and her kind-hearted coach. The champion who debuted at the tender age of 15 and is now the captain of the national senior women’s team, didn’t have it easy at any point.
Rani’s family was extremely skeptical about her inclination towards the sport. Her father used to make a living by selling bricks. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Rani’s family, which included her, her mother, father, two brothers, their wives and children, have waged through several hardships financially. Rani’s father told Times of India, “I used to take bricks from one place to another on my horse cart. There were days when I earned just Rs 4 or 5. It was very difficult to provide my family one meal a day — forget about three. My wife and I not only saved money bit by bit, but we also used to save food because nobody knew what was in the store the next day.”
Given their situation, they were fairly worried when Rani voiced her dream of picking up Hockey as a career. They weren’t game for this and discouraged her at first. She recalls her initial struggle of convincing her parents to let her play the sport. It took her nearly three years to reach that stage. She says, “India is a male-dominated country and nobody prefers women to play a sport or go out of the house. My parents are not educated, they can’t even write their own names, so it’s very difficult for them to understand sport.” The neighbors and relatives tried to worsen the situations for her by telling her parents that Rani would bring a bad name to the family as she would be wearing shorts and skirts. Rani had no option left but to emotionally blackmail them.
However, now her father can hold his head high and so can her family as she has managed to enhance the value of the Indian women’s hockey team across the world. Her proud father now says that if there was one good decision he made in his life, it was to allow Rani to play hockey.
A coach like no other
Rani’s desire to play hockey would have not taken shape had she not received the mentoring from the Dronacharya Awardee, Baldev Singh. Rani’s family lacked the funds to support her dream and in order to become a top form athlete Rani knew, she would need solid training. That’s when fate got her to the former coach of Shahabad Hockey Academy, Baldev Singh.
Rani, who didn’t have an alarm clock to her aid for a wake-up call for training, didn’t back down even once when it came to her practice. Her mother used to wake her up every day at 4.00am and at times she would try to deduce the time by the position of the stars. Rani’s training would commence at 5.00 am each day. She talks about how her coach not only taught her well about the sport but also helped her imbibe certain core values of a respectable sportsperson. She tells in an interview with The Guardian, “Once I arrived at 5.02am, two minutes late, and Baldev was so angry that he asked me to pay a 200 rupee fine. My dad only made about 100 rupees per day so I couldn’t pay that. I told my mum the story and asked her for the money. She was only able to give me 100. I gave it to Baldev before training and explained the money situation but he was still angry. At the end of the training session, he gave me the 100 rupees back, and another 100 on top, and said: ‘I don’t want to take money from you, I just want to teach you discipline.’ Since that day I’ve never been late.”
His immense support has helped her go that extra mile and today she is not only going places but is also doing her country and her coach proud. Rani says that without Baldev Singh, she would be nowhere and nothing. There were times when she could not buy the sticks or shoes as they were priced steeply and Baldev Singh provided her whatever help was required in terms of kits, jerseys, equipment, and even dietary supplements.
His constant encouragement has been the only baton of hope in Rani’s life.
Champions are not born overnight
From being a cart puller’s daughter to a victorious captain of the Indian Women’s Hockey Team, Rani Rampal is scaling the mountain of glory one step at a time. She has proved it to many young, aspiring girls like her that no obstacle can be bigger than their dream.
From not being able to afford an alarm clock, today, she has provided her family with a two-story house in a posh area in Shahabad and has an apple watch too. While these are just materialistic gains, she feels extremely proud to have provided the comfort to her parents and family whose support has got her this long. Her father has still kept the cart outside the house as it reminds him of the journey they have been through to see their daughter shine.
The warrior Rani, led the national team at 2018 world cup and even was the flag bearer at the closing ceremony at the Asian Games. Her persistent efforts have driven the team to fetch the Silver at the Asian games.
Beginning from being the youngest player to represent the national team in her debut tournament at the Women’s Hockey World Cup to having played 212 international matches and scoring 134 goals, she is an icon to look up to.
She is the only Indian to be nominated for the FIH Women’s Young Player of the Year Award, in 2010. And is also the recipient of the Arjuna Award in the year 2016.
From having no bread to eat in a day to now beaming like a Sun, Rani has emerged as a legendary sportswoman through all the toil. She has used every opportunity to sculpt her career path and her character. Her story can be summed up in Louis Zamperini’s words – “That’s one thing you learn in sports. You don’t give up; you fight to the finish.”
READ MORE: THE LIVING MEMORIAL IN INDIA
Feature Image: Rani Rampal’ Facebook