Inspirational anecdotes usually draw on incidents where extraordinary courage and resilience tame greatest of challenges and pain. Deepa’s story treads a similar course.
During her formative years as a handball player, the girl always dreamt of representing India. The wish was fulfilled in 2011 – just four years after Deepa got into the sport – when she was selected to the national under-16 squad for the Partille Cup held in Sweden. Upon returning from the event, the youngster set herself a bigger and challenging goal – the 2014 Asian Games.
“The recognition associated with having played for the country, and the desire to emulate Kamini didi prompted me to set sights on the Asiad. The lure was too hard to resist,” says 18-year-old Deepa, who trains under coach Iqbal Singh at the handball coaching centre in the Sector-42 Sports Complex. Kamini Gautam, a former trainee of the same centre, participated in the 2008 Doha Asian Games.
But, while Deepa was charting the course for the future challenge, Fate played a cruel trick that left the player in the lurch for almost a year, and her Asiad dreams on the verge of shattering.
“In January 2012, I tore my left knee ligament during a preparatory camp for the National School Games. Following the surgery, I was bed-ridden and in excruciating pain for almost three months. The rehabilitation period was even more agonising: walking a few steps was a task, so resuming with the game was a distant thought,” relates the player, who is pursuing a BA degree from Dev Samaj College for Women, Sector 45.
Deepa was “broken physically”, but was mentally determined to be back on the court. Also, her coach did not give up on her. “Iqbal sir used to call me up and tell that I had to make a comeback. His pep talks kept me motivated. So did my parents, who stayed beside me throughout this difficult time. Earlier also, they had never objected to my sporting aspirations, and this time, too, they didn’t ask me to give up the sport,” adds Deepa, whose father Gurnam Singh and mother Laxmi Chaudhary are both physical education teachers at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Panchkula.
Five months after the surgery, the youngster was back on her feet, but the lay-off had taken the toll on her body. “I had put on some weight and was unfit for the game. Iqbal sir again came to my assistance: he would hold special training sessions to get the strength back in my legs, and scolded me if I slacked. He would even cycle along with me near Sukhna Lake early morning. If he hadn’t been there, I could not have managed to play again.”
After staying away from the competitions for almost a year, Deepa made a spectacular comeback by winning the gold and silver medal in the state and inter-college tournaments, respectively. At the senior national championship held in Andhra Pradesh in October 2013, she gave a fine performance to earn a berth in the national camp for the SAFF Games. But the injury scare surfaced again.
“After spending 4-5 days at the camp, I started experiencing pain near the operated part of the knee. With the Asian Games just seven months away, I was not ready to take risk. I came back immediately and took plenty of rest. I had missed six international events during my injury and recovery phase. I was willing to miss more, but not the Asian Games.”
The prudence worked well for the girl. She was completely fit by the time the next senior Nationals (held in Haryana this January) was around. As expected, she again stood out due to her performance and was subsequently selected to the national camp for the Asian Games.
“The biggest moment was, however, when I made it to the final 16-member squad. The selection made me forget all the pain and agony I had gone through during that one year,” shares Deepa, who became the second woman handball player from Chandigarh, after Kamini, to participate in the Asian Games.
Deepa played all the five matches for the team at Incheon, and though the squad finished eighth among 13 participating countries, she describes the experience thrilling. “The level of competition, infrastructure and playing facilities were all top class. If we have same things here, I am sure Indian teams would start making podium finishes at big events like Asiad.”
What is next on her radar now? “Besides inter-university tournament and national championship, I am looking forward to participating in the Southeast Asian qualifiers for the IHF Continental Trophy (in Lahore) and Asian Beach Handball championship (China). I had missed both the international events last time, but will hopefully compete in them now,” says Deepa before signing off.