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The inspiring tale of the 'prince' of Indian hockey - Yuvraj Walmiki

The inspiring tale of the prince of Indian hockey - Yuvraj Walmiki

Yuvraj Walmiki

Published: 15 July 2019 9:36 AM GMT
As I was growing up, I saw struggles from close quarters during my childhood. But I nursed a dream to make it big some day, to make my parents proud and do something for them. Of the four brothers in the family, I am the third one and my younger brother Devender, has also made name for himself playing hockey for the Indian national team.

My interest in hockey started back in 1999 when I was just ten years old.

If I have to recall, I would say the interest fuelled quite surprisingly. During my school days, my classmate Boon Dsouza used to play hockey and his father was working as a doctor at the hockey stadium. When we were in the sixth standard, Boon and I were preparing for a dance to be performed at our school function. One day, he turned up to me with a picture of him in the newspaper. That was the time I decided that I, too, want to see my photo in the newspaper. I wanted to create and identity among people. And this, began my journey in the sport. I gradually took up hockey and started playing every single day. Within a couple of months, I realised that it has become a passion. I even started bunking my classes to pursue the sport.
Yuvraj Walmiki as young player in white head band

Owing to poverty I didn't have the resources to play hockey.

Boon was always an immense support for me and he managed to get me second-hand equipment, including shoes and sticks, which I kept on using during my initial days. After some time, I revealed my passion for the sport to my mother, and surprisingly she encouraged me to focus on the game so that I can play it at the highest level. It was a tough situation to play hockey coming from such a background. Six of us somehow managed to stay inside a 10x10 room and my father, who was working as a driver, also instead of urging to complete my study and get a job, supported me to pursue my passion. It lifted my morale and encouraged me to never back out of the sport. While I was picking up the pace, Boon introduced me to Mr Mehezbaan Patel, fondly known as Bawa Sir. It was under the tutelage of Bawa Sir, I built my foundation of hockey. He trained me and instilled the discipline in me. I am deeply indebted to these two people, without whose support I wouldn't have played it professionally. In my entire journey, I had played under a lot of coaches, but Bawa Sir holds a special place in my heart. On Sundays, I often indulged in Gully Cricket with my peers, but Bawa Sir used to come and find me and dragged me to the stadium to keep me focused on hockey. He was strict but he cared about my training like no one else did.
Yuvraj Walmiki(Blue Tshirt) with Mother and Brother Devindar

In 2003, I played my first official game for Bombay Republic against Coorg XI.

I realised that my game has picked up when I went on to play my maiden official match. We won by around 15 goals, where I scored five. It was something like a fairy tale for me because things turned out to be pretty unexpected. To my surprise, I found out the story came out in newspapers and that was the moment I realised I have achieved a milestone. This was the best take off I could have ever imagined. Then I became the youngest player to ever join the Bank of India hockey team, with a scholarship at the age of 15. While I was still a fledgling, I used to look upto the legend of Indian hockey Dhanraj Pillay.  It was always a sheer delight to watch him doing his wizardry on the turf. He became my inspiration and my motto was to one day wear the number. 9 jersey for India like him.
In 2007, it was another milestone moment for me, when I became the youngest player to join Air India, which at that time had the best players from India playing. It was a big honour and also an achievement at that moment, because I was playing for the team without even playing in the Indian junior camp.
Everything, however, didn't turn up to be smooth. There was a time I was demotivated. In 2009, I got a call from the junior Indian camp, which was an emotional moment for me because I had set my sight to play for India. But unfortunately, even after 13 camps, I couldn't make into the team. When I was dropped from the World Cup team that year, I had lost my hopes and thought I would never make it big. Amid such tough times, my idol Dhanraj Pillay, whom I fondly call Anna, kept motivating me along with my parents. I owe a lot to him for always being like a rock-solid pillar beside me. Probably because of all the motivation, I started playing hockey in 2010 again and within two months, I received a call from the India A team. I went with the team to play in Bangladesh at the South Asian Games.

It was a different moment for me donning the India jersey. Afterall, the name on the front of the jersey matters the most instead of the name on the back.

The opening match was against Nepal, where I debuted and scored two goals. After that, I went on to play the German Hockey League.

I am the only one from India who is a part of the German Hockey League from the last seven years.

I am very thankful for the German league because soon after my performance in 2010, I got selected in the national team. One thing which I have learned from Germany is “attack win matches, defence win Championships”
. Playing in that league taught me complete hockey. After our nationals tournament, my doors opened for the senior Indian camp. From a group of 48 players,  I kept on climbing up the ladder to make it into the top-18. The moment of reckoning the highest order of hockey had come for me. In 2011, I was part of the team to play the first-ever Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament. It was the biggest moment of my career and I remember we took on China in the opening game, where I scored my debut goal. The tournament progressed well for us, but the defining feat came in the final where we faced Pakistan. The match went down the wire into the shoot-outs where I scored a crucial goal and India won the tournament.
India Team Winning Asian Champions Trophy 2011 Winning the Asian Champions Trophy was historical and I still remember how things turned around for me. The Indian team was felicitated and honoured after returning from the Champions Trophy victory. Back at home in Mumbai, people were preparing for a grand welcome for me. The who's who of Mumbai including the mayor had come to meet me and while I was getting out of the airport, I saw thousands came to welcome me home. That was the first time, I got recognition in my hometown. People gave me the title "The Prince of Indian hockey", for my name - Yuvraj. It was a proud moment for me and I knew I had made my parents proud. As a Mumbaikar, I took extreme delight in representing India from the city after so many years. Playing alongside my brother Devender was another big moment in my life. While he was making his debut, I was playing my 50th match for India. We played together against Poland and picked up individual goals. The Walmiki brothers made headlines, it was an immensely delightful moment.
Playing in the 2014 Hockey World Cup in the Netherlands was the biggest honour of my career, because I had to miss out on the 2012 Olympics owing to an injury. Olympics remained that missing puzzle of my life which eludes me at times, but I try not to think about it much.

My learning continues as I keep on playing hockey in different countries.

I have earned some great friends through this sports, including the present captain Manpreet Singh and of course, Lalit Upadhyay. The game has changed a lot in recent years, and India is doing pretty well but there's is always a room for improvement. The concentration should be on the grassroots to nurture the talent for tomorrow. India has the money -- in leagues like IPL or the Hockey India League, we have seen people flying down from Germany, Australia to play here. A good focus should be given for the improvement of the game. We need new heroes in every decade of the game.
Today, scientists have proven that our body needs extra nutrition to keep functioning at our utmost potential. And for that, I have associated myself with Fast&Up for about a year now. Fast&Up is unparalleled when it come to nutritional requirement. It has raised my fitness bar and the difference is quite evident now that I feel on the turf. I am grateful to them for creating such products and making a big difference in our daily nutrition consumption. They are bringing a revolution in India's sports nutrition ecosystem which is yet unmatched. I want to conclude saying that things have fallen in place for me and I am pretty satisfied with my career. In the future, probably in the next four or five years, my brother and I will be opening a hockey academy where our primary motive would be to train underprivileged children. I have still a lot of hockey in me and I would like to keep inspiring the next generation to take up this sport.
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