From landing a job as a junior ticket collector with the Railways to leading the Indian women’s hockey team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and now travelling to the Tokyo Olympics, it’s been a long journey for Pukhrambam Sushila Chanu.
In Rio, the women’s hockey team qualified to play the Olympics after 36 years. It was a proud moment for Chanu as captain of the team. However, the Indian women had a disastrous outing, getting knocked out in the group stages.
At Tokyo, it’s a different story. The squad has gone through rigorous practice and has the perfect balance of eight seniors, who were members of the Rio squad, and eight new players. The team will be led by Rani Rampal. As a senior member, Chanu, 29, feels the perfect harmony of experienced heads and young blood will make this Indian team successful.
Chanu hails from Imphal in Manipur and idolises boxing legend MC Mary Kom for her grit and wanted to be the best in her field like her idol. Chanu’s family was enthusiastic about sport, and she fell in love with the idea of becoming an athlete after witnessing a National Games football match in 1999.
Chanu nurtured the idea and at 11 decided to try her hand at hockey on the suggestion of her uncle. She joined the Posterior Hockey Academy in Manipur, and after four years shifted to the Madhya Pradesh Women’s Hockey Academy in Gwalior to sharpen her skills.
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Since that shift in 2007, Chanu has never looked back. The following year, she made her junior international debut at the U-21 Asia Cup in Malaysia. Her talent was visible as she was one of the reasons for the two consecutive bronze the junior team won at the Four-Nations Hockey Championship in 2011 and 2012.
The halfback struck silver at the 6th Junior Women Asia Cup in Thailand, and one more landmark came her way when she led the team to bronze at the 2013 Junior World Cup at Mönchengladbach in Germany.
Chanu made her senior international debut in a Test series against New Zealand in 2009 but had to stay away from the sport owing to fitness issues. At this time, she graduated from the Madhya Pradesh Women’s Hockey Academy and joined Central Railways as a Junior Ticket Collector in Mumbai.
Chanu impressed with her leadership at the 2013 Junior World Cup and is a mainstay of the senior team since then. She was a member of the squad that won gold at the 2013 FIH World League and donned the India jersey at the eighth and ninth editions of the Women’s Asia Cup in 2013 and 2017.
Chanu played a pivotal role when India got bronze at the 17th Asian Games, and helped her team reach the semi-final berth at the 2015 Hockey World League. She was also a part of the squad for two consecutive Commonwealth Games, 2014 and 2018.
Everything seemed on track for Chanu till disaster struck at the start of 2016. A severe injury in the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) led to reconstruction surgery, however, a strict exercise and physiotherapy regimen helped her regain strength in just eight weeks.
With 4 goals and more than 180 caps to her name, Chanu is a veteran. Regarded one of the most technically sound players to grace Indian hockey, Chanu touched the milestone of 150 international caps in 2018 when India took on Spain in a 5-match series. “I had always dreamt of representing the country at least once in my lifetime, but to have put on the national team colours 150 times, it makes me a very proud citizen of the country. It’s been a memorable journey with the Indian team and I hope I can contribute to the growth of the team and bring laurels to the nation in the future,” she had said.
Despite representing India at the Olympics for the second time, Chanu must ensure that she does not lose her job as a ticket collector. According to her, all athletes cannot leave their jobs and pursue sports. She is saddened by this but the warrior that she is, Chanu will never stop fighting to earn what is hers.
Text courtesy: SportSavour