Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, August 2
Rani Rampal, who has led the Indian women’s hockey team to the semifinals of the Olympic Games for the very first time, is a living example of the transformative power of sport.
Daughter of a cart-puller father and housemaid mother in Haryana’s Shahabad, Rani knew extreme poverty growing up but her talent and perseverance took her to the pinnacle of sport in India – when she was awarded the Khel Ratna last year, she said she had only one dream: an Olympics medal.
Now the 26-year-old is just one more victory away from achieving her dream.
Rani’s story is not new, for she got into the national team at age 14 and has been around for a long time, but this inspirational story bears retelling.
Sports was her dream and also her route out of poverty, and she defied odds such as lack of gear – playing in salwar-kamiz, for instance – or good shoes to play in or even a proper diet.
She wanted to escape a life that’s norm for a large number of Indians.
“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,” Rani said a few years ago.
“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.”
The road to Tokyo has been very difficult. When she started out playing hockey, she was told by her parents: ‘Ladkiya ghar ka kaam hi karti hai… Girls only do household work and we won’t allow you to play in skirts.”
Eventually, her family gave in to her pleadings. Since they did not have a clock, Rani’s mother used to stay awake until early morning to be able to wake Rani up for practice.
Probably the best thing that ever happened to her was that she was accepted for training at the Shahabad Hockey Academy. Training under Baldev Singh, a winner of the Dronacharya Award, honed her skills.
She has been a regular in the Indian team after making her debut as a 14-year-old back in 2008, making her the youngest player to play for the national team.
She made her World Cup debut in 2010, at 15, and scored five of India’s seven goals in the competition.
Rani was part of the Indian team which represented India at Rio 2016, the first time the Indian women qualified for the Olympics in 36 years.
She had earned 241 international caps till before the Tokyo Olympics and had scored 117 goals.
Coming to Tokyo, she scored the goal that clinched India’s berth for the Olympics, in the final qualification match against the United States in Bhubaneswar.
In 2017, Rani bought her family a home – just as she had promised. “I finally fulfilled the promise I made to my family and bought them a home. We cried together and held each other tightly,” she said.
She can fulfil another promise to herself now, of a medal at an Olympics.
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