It is not easy to make it to the national hockey team, especially when you are born in a town which lacks proper infrastructure for the sport's training.
But Haridwar girl, Vandana Kataria, who plays as a forward in the Indian team, has always had an uncanny knack of turning odds into opportunity, a talent the 22-year-old will fall back on when she takes the field at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, later this month.
Vandana Kataria in action during a hockey match in New Delhi. (HT Photo)
Born into a family of seven—three sisters and four brothers – Kataria, however, found support from his father Nahar Singh, a master technician in BHEL in Haridwar. Her real challenge came from a lack of proper training facility.
"I used to play in the Roshnabad stadium in Haridwar but it lacked even the basic facilities. So my family members once asked me to stop playing hockey, not because they doubted my talent or they were averse to the game, but because they were disappointed with the lack of facilities to promote hockey in Uttarakhand," she said.
Seeing the dearth of opportunity for hockey training, Vandana's father and coach Krishna Kumar decided to send her to Lucknow, where the facilities were comparatively better.
"I joined a hockey coaching hostel in Lucknow in 2005. There the facilities were better. But we still played in the grass court and not on Astroturf, as in international stadiums," said Kataria who won her 100th cap while playing against Canada in 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
Kataria later got a job in Railway as a junior ticket collector in Central Railway in Mumbai. But going for the job meant that she had less time for hockey. Therefore, she joined Centre of Excellence, Bhopal.
"Excellence is like a special cell. We got the time to practice at Astroturf field at SAI Sports Complex in Bhopal," said India's top scorer in the tournament, having scored 5 goals in 4 games.
Vandana rues the fact that she didn’t get much support from the state government in her initial days.
Former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna presented a cheque of `2 lakh after the team won bronze in world championship in Germany, but besides that the government did not give any major help, said Vandana who was India's top scorer in the tournament, having scored 5 goals in 4 games.
Vandana is presently training at the preparatory camp for Asian Games in New Delhi.
The young Haridwar girl is confident of getting a gold for India in the Asiad.
"We missed it in Glasgow but we won’t miss it in Incheon," she says with confidence.