It’s only persistence that opens bigger platforms for you | By Sunita Lakra

It was back in 2002 my father introduced me to hockey. As an eleven-year-old, I was not sure whether it would suit me. I was skeptical in my earlier days but he inculcated a belief in me and dragged me to play the sport.

A year later, I was enjoying the game and was gradually gaining the fluency.

That is how my career in hockey started to take shape. You probably get to hear that girls are not encouraged by family members to take up sports. I believe, I wouldn’t have succeeded without my father, who stood like a strong pillar behind me.

Gradually, my game started improving and after three years of intense practice, I made it to the Indian junior women’s hockey camp in 2005. In three years of time, my performance in the defence started to make a mark and I was selected in the 2008 Asia Cup squad, which was my first international tour.

2009 turned out to be one of most memorable years as I got a call in Senior Women’s camp. It’s been nine years, and I have been able to play more than hundred international matches for India. This certainly gives me a sense of pride today.

Luckily, I belong to Rourkela in Odisha, a state that has always embraced hockey as a part of its culture. I have grown up watching this sport in almost every nook and corner of my neighbourhood; the amount of people playing the sport has significantly increased by now. Now, every colony probably has its own hockey tournament.

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I was never good in my studies, but this game gave me the zeal to do something with my life. During my hostel days in camps, I used to watch my idol Dilip Tirkey, another hockey legend from Odisha, yielding his stick with finesse, which gave me goosebumps and I still try my best to emulate his wizardry.

There is amazing coordination between all the players in the team. Most of us have been there for the last three to four years, which has helped us in developing ourselves as better players.

An injury scare in 2010, left me giving up my place in the team. For a year, I was in depression without being able to play hockey, However, as I slowly started recovering, my game significantly improved and I was again called up in the team in 2013.

When you are down and out, every little bit of encouragement helps you get better. That motivation is what matters. Otherwise, picking yourself up, dusting off the bits and moving on is one of the hardest things that a player ever needs to do.

This motivated me to the core. A year back, I had thought of actually quitting the game, but I never lost hope and finally, in 2013, it felt like getting a new life. Now, I can’t stay a single day without thinking about hockey.

I feel more confident today when I take the turf. As a defender, my utmost priority remains of clearing the ball from opponents possession and passing to my team-mates.

Had my father not pushed me to play hockey, I would have never scaled such heights to play this game. In a way, it has affected my personality. I used to be quiet and demure. Maybe, I still am off the field. But I have learnt to translate my passion when I am in the middle of a game.

Everyone in my family supports me today, especially my elder brother who is in the army. Whenever I am at my home in Rourkela, I try to inspire the next generation to take up this sport and I insist that they keep putting their best efforts every time they yield the stick because only persistence can make you a good player.

The biggest moment in my life was representing India in the 2016 Rio Olympics game. It is a dream come true for every one of us. The Olympics had a deep impact on my earning curve. Today, I feel I have improved my game a lot after getting exposure at such a big event.

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Right now, we are set for another big challenge — the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where we are vying a podium finish, nothing less than that. It would be a tough challenge with some major teams participating, but that’s we believe we are prepared enough to lock horns with the best.

To achieve something great, the right kind of backing is always necessary. Earlier, it was father who fit into that role. Today, it’s my team and coach. Behind every little bit of success, there is the unacknowledged hard work of many. It’s always important to remember that because that is what keeps you humble and grounded.

Greatness without humility means nothing.