Armyman who once didn't have money for shoes eyes glory at Prime Volleyball League
The Prime Volleyball League has given a new lease of life to the sport in India and Pankaj Sharma, son of an apple farmer from Himachal Pradesh, believes nothing could be better than this.
"What else could be better than this? People will get to know us, will be able to see our talents, and would talk about a sport, which was losing its popularity," quips Pankaj Sharma. The Havaldar in the Indian Army is already excited and raring to bring out his best game at the Prime Volleyball League (PVL) which is starting next month in Kochi.
A game played widely across the country, volleyball has been a part of the Indian sporting conscience for more than seven decades. But it was slowly eroding from the conscience of the mass as a part of the Indian sporting ecosystem due to the lack of tournaments in the country amid a raging pandemic. Three years after the conclusion Pro Volleyball League, the sport will again get its life back and a much-needed impetus through the PVL.
Sharma, the son of a humble apple farmer in the Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh, has been waiting for this day since the time he has played for his country. He will be wearing the colours of Bengaluru Torpedoes, one of the eight city-based franchises of the PVL. "This was long due. We don't get to participate in international outings frequently, and now, playing in a league will further motivate us to stay fit and train hard to showcase our mettle," says Sharma, who is training for the event at the Army camp in Secunderabad.
"At times, it feels like a dream, because the challenges I had to face were quite difficult. I started playing volleyball when I was in school in Shimla. There was a coach in my school, who used to carry out physical activities. He asked me to start playing volleyball because I had good height and could punch the ball hard. I slowly developed my interest in the sport and became good at it. However, I faced a major financial hurdle. We couldn't afford the food that is required for an athlete, also I didn't have a proper shoe to train," recounts Sharma in an interview with The Bridge.
The situation slowly started improving for him once he started taking big steps through the sport. Owing to his talent, he was sent to a sports hostel in Rohru (Himachal Pradesh) in 2007 and it was there he learned the basics of the sport. The formative years in the sports hostel helped Sharma land a job at the Indian Army in 2010 and the same year he was called up to represent the youth team of India.
He played his first senior nationals in the 2012-13 season for the Services team and in 2013, he joined the India camp for the first time and played for the country the same year. "There is no bigger pride for me than representing your country. Besides, I was also being able to support my family because of this sport." reflects Sharma, who was part of the Indian team that took part at the 2018 Asian Games where they beat the Maldives and Hong Kong.
However, he recounts his best moment as the time when he went on to represent the Indian Army team in the Asian Army Games in 2012 at Kathmandu where they beat Pakistan Army in the finals.
Amid the third wave of coronavirus, the 28-year-old's life has mostly been restricted to his Army camp in Secunderabad where he has been training for the past one month since he returned from Himachal following his wedding ceremony. "It's almost been two months since I have not met my family members. I am maintaining a disciplined life here so that I can give my 100% in the PVL. We train in the morning and the evening, and sometimes go out on walks within the boundary of the Army camp. That's more or less how I spend my days here," says Sharma.
The PVL is slated to start in February with eight teams eyeing for the Silverware that would include the big Indian players along with mighty names from across the world. Though the COVID-crisis has is looming with a third wave in the country, Sharma hopes the PVL would be a major success through which the heroes of Indian volleyball could become households names.