Waiting to earn her place in the senior Indian women’s hockey team, young striker Rajwinder Kaur says she takes inspiration from skipper Rani Rampal’s struggles and is determined to bring her family out of poverty with her sporting achievements.

Born in a small village in Punjab, life for Kaur, whose father is an autorickshaw driver and mother a housewife, was not particularly easy. But it changed when a few seniors in her school – Sri Guru Arjun Dev Public School – insisted on her taking up hockey.

“I wanted to be an athlete. I had the speed but when I was in standard IX, my seniors asked me to pursue hockey, I took the chance,” the 21-year-old, who is part of the senior women’s core-probable’s group, was quoted as saying by Hockey India in a press release.

Her speed, abilities as a striker and natural flair caught the attention of national selectors during domestic tournaments in 2015. Soon, she was picked for the junior national camp and was given an opportunity to play for India at the U-18 Asia Cup in 2016 in Malaysia.

“In 2017, I received a call up for the senior national camp where I got to closely interact with several top players,” said Kaur, who comes from a village named Mugal Chak near Tarn Taran in Punjab. “Everyone comes from very difficult backgrounds and each one’s personal story is motivating but Rani’s struggle in her younger days and her subsequent rise in the sport gives me hope because I too come from similar background and I hope I can also pull my family out of poverty by doing well in hockey.”

Rani’s father was a cart-puller but she fought her circumstances to become the youngest player in the national team at 15, drafted in to play in the 2010 World Cup. She eventually became the captain of the side. Kaur, the eldest of three sisters and a brother, is a striker who also doubles up as an attacking midfielder. Having been a regular in the senior national core probable group since 2017, Kaur patiently awaits her turn to earn her maiden International Cap.

“I do feel disappointed when I don’t see my name in the 18-member squad but I know I still have a lot of time and chief coach Sjoerd Marijne points out my shortcomings in a positive way and encourages me to improve on those areas,” Kaur said. “I know I have the skills and speed; I need to work on my fitness which is a weak point and since I mostly played as a striker in Junior days, I need to adapt to playing in the midfield.”

Back home for a break, Kaur recalls her time during the nation-wide lockdown when the team was in SAI, Bengaluru. Not allowed to train, Kaur used this period to learn the English language.

“When I came into the senior camp, I found it very hard to understand because I didn’t know English,” Kaur recalled, emphasising that this period taught her how to be self-motivated. “I used the time during lockdown to learn the language using different books, online translations, and I would stand in front of the mirror and speak English.”

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