India skipper P Sushila Chanu hopes the junior team’s bronze medal at the World Cup will inspire youngsters back home in Manipur. “It should encourage more girls to play hockey,” she said.
Hockey, according to Sushila, is on the decline in the North-East due to poor facilities, but the podium finish in Germany on Sunday should be a motivating factor. “I have come through a lot of hardship. It should inspire budding players,” she said.
Chanu was inspired by Surja Lata Devi, also from Manipur. Surja was skipper of the national team that won gold at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games and Asia Cup title in 2004. Ten summers ago when Sushila came into the sport, she was just another youngster from Manipur hoping to escape the harsh realities of life. Sport, she was told by a relative, was the gateway to green pastures.
“I was clueless on how endless hours on the ground would take me to another world,” she said of her formative days in Imphal.
Since few girls played hockey, opportunity knocked sooner than expected. She was selected to represent the state in the 2003-2004 National School Games. It heralded a new beginning.
A year later she was selected to a hockey academy in Gwalior. The move transformed her life. Back home, the facilities were inadequate. “For learning rudimentary lessons its okay, but not for players who have bigger targets,” she said. Also due to the unrest in the state, training wasn’t feasible in the evening.
Apart from facilities, diet too was an issue for the three siblings. “There was hardship but it made me tougher,” she said on the sidelines of a felicitation ceremony.