(April 5, 2023) “Words seem too less to express my happiness and gratitude as I share that the MCF Raebareli has renamed the hockey stadium to ‘Rani’s Girls Hockey Turf’ to honour my contribution to hockey,” tweeted an elated Rani Rampal. With this, the former women’s hockey captain who has earned the moniker ‘the queen of hockey’ for her consistently good performances has achieved a rare honour.In another tweet, Rani remarked, “It is a proud and emotional moment for me as I become the first woman hockey player to have a stadium to my name. I dedicate this to the Indian women’s team and I hope this inspires the next generation of women hockey players!”
The journey of the twenty-eight-year-old hockey player from being a cart-puller’s daughter to representing India in all the major international hockey turfs is nothing short of an inspiration. The self-made hockey player had dared to dream when there were odds stacked against her and with her sheer dedication has come a long way.
Life as a cart-puller’s daughter
Growing up in Haryana, Rani dreamed of becoming a hockey player ever since she was a little girl. But her cart-puller father who could not even manage two meals a day for the family was unable to support her dreams. Rani persisted. Playing with a broken hockey stick, running around in a salwar-kameez as she could not afford a tracksuit, the youngster carried on. Her mother worked as a housemaid.
“I wanted an escape from my life – from the electricity shortages to the mosquitoes buzzing in our ears when we slept, from barely having two square meals to seeing our home getting flooded when it rained. My parents tried their best but there was little that they could do,” Rani said in an interview.
There was a hockey academy near their house. Rani would spend hours watching players practice. She too wanted to play but every time she requested the coach to include her in the practice sessions, he would reject her saying, she was malnourished. While her parents kept on postponing her demands to purchase a hockey stick. One day Rani found a broken hockey stick near the academy and was on top of the world. Determined to change her life’s trajectory she begged the coach to give her a chance to learn. Eventually, with lots of pleadings, he agreed to train her. This was the beginning of a history that was waiting to be unfolded.
The journey began…
When Rani’s parents came to know about her plans to play hockey, they were reluctant. Instead, they wanted her to take up household chores and disapproved of the idea of girls playing hockey wearing skirts. It was the second time that Rani had to plead very hard. “I pleaded with them to let me play and if I failed, I promised I would do whatever they wanted me to do,” she said. It was only then that they agreed.
At the academy, each player needed to bring 500 ml of milk to drink before resuming practice. However, it was just 200 ml that the family could afford for Rani. The youngster did not want to take any chances and make the coach unhappy. She would mix milk with water in a 500 ml bottle and take it to the academy to do exactly what the coach desired. Rani picked up the sport fast. Looking at her dedication to the sport and how she did not miss a single day of practice, the coach built a liking for her. Later he even bought her a hockey kit and shoes and allowed her to stay with his family so that her nutritional needs could be taken care of.
It was a joyous and emotional occasion for her family when Rani came home with her first earning, a Rs 500 note that she won in a tournament. It was her first earning and when she gave the money to her father, he wept in joy. “I promised my family that one day we would be having our own home and worked hard to keep that promise,” the Global Indian said.
On the path to success
After playing several tournaments and representing her state under the guidance of her coach who stood by her in thick and thin Rani got a chance to play at the nationals. As she started to play professionally, GoSports Foundation, a sports NGO provided Rani with monetary as well as non-monetary support. At the age of 15, she was the youngest player in the national team which participated in the 2010 World Cup. After giving several consistent performances, there came a day when she was named the captain of the Indian Hockey Team – making her parents and hockey coach swell in pride.
Keeping to her promise she fulfilled the need for one’s own home for the family in 2017. “It was an emotional day for all of us. We cried together and held each other tight” she said. Having played the sport for more than 13 years now, the veteran player has been the mainstay of the team. In 2020 the striker who often doubles up as a midfielder was honoured with a Padma Shri. Her coach Baldev Singh received the Dronacharya Award.
Bringing laurels to the country in numerous international tournaments Rani has also worked as an assistant coach with the Sports Authority of India. Apart from Padma Shri, she has won the Arjuna Award and the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award – the highest sporting honours of India.
With a stadium that has just got named after her, the hockey player has reached a significant milestone in her career. From being a girl who had to plead to enter a hockey academy to becoming the first female player to have a stadium named after her, Rani’s journey is extraordinary.
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