Rani Rampal : “I wanted an escape from my life; from the electricity shortages, to the mosquitoes buzzing in our ear when we slept, from barely having two square meals to seeing our home getting flooded when it rained. My parents tried their best, but there was only so much they could do–Papa was a cart puller and Maa worked as a maid.
There was a hockey academy near my home, so I’d spend hours watching players practice–I really wanted to play. Papa would earn Rs.80 a day and couldn’t afford to buy me a stick. Everyday, I’d ask the coach to teach me too. He’d reject me because I was malnourished. He’d say, ‘You aren’t strong enough to pull through a practice session.’
So, I found a broken hockey stick on the field and began practicing with that– I didn’t have training clothes, so I was running around in a salwar kameez. But I was determined to prove myself. I begged the coach for a chance– maine bahut mushkil se convince kiya unko finally!
But when I told my family, they said, ‘Ladkiya ghar ka kaam hi karti hai,’ and ‘Hum tumhe skirt pehen kar khelne nahi denge.’ I’d plead with them saying, ‘Please mujhe jaane do. If I fail, I’ll do whatever you want.’ My family reluctantly gave in.
Training would start early in the morning. We didn’t even have a clock, so mom would stay up and look at the sky to check if it was the right time to wake me.
At the academy, it was mandatory for each player to bring 500 ml of milk. My family could only afford milk worth 200 ml; without telling anyone, I’d mix the milk with water and drink it because I wanted to play.
My coach supported me through thick and thin; he’d buy me hockey kits and shoes. He even allowed me to live with his family and took care of my dietary needs. I’d train hard and wouldn’t miss a single day of practice.
I remember earning my first salary; I won Rs.500 after winning a tournament and gave the money to Papa. He hadn’t ever held so much money in his hands before. I promised my family, ‘One day, we’re going to have our own home’; I did everything in my power to work towards that.
After representing my state and playing in several championships, I finally got a national call up at the age of 15! Still, my relatives would only ask me when I was planning on getting married. But Papa told me, ‘Play until your heart’s content.’ With my family’s support, I focused on doing my best for India and eventually, I became captain of the Indian hockey team!
Soon after, while I was at home, a friend papa used to work with visited us. He brought along his granddaughter and told me, ‘She’s inspired by you and wants to become a hockey player!’ I was so happy; I just started crying.
And then in 2017, I finally fulfilled the promise I made to my family and bought them a home. We cried together and held each other tightly! And I’m not done yet; this year, I’m determined to repay them and Coach with something they’ve always dreamed of– a gold medal from Tokyo.”