Ask them where they belong to; expecting the name of an Indian state and the reply is “India”. This is reminiscent of the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Chak De! India. These 19 girls aged between 16 and 33 are part of the India Women Ice Hockey team.
While a majority of people are still unaware of their existence, the girls mostly from Ladakh are all set to create history as they fly to China to participate in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia – their first international competition. “This is the first time we will represent our country,” says Rinchen Dolma, the 26-year-old captain of India’s first women ice hockey team.
“All of us our very excited because this is the first time that we will participate and represent our country. We know that in India ice hockey isn’t so popular but it has a long history and girls should take it up. In fact girls should participate in all sports. The boys from the men’s ice hocket team keep sharing their experiences and support and encourage us all the time,” says Rinchen Dolma, the 26-year-old captain of the first Women Ice Hockey Team in India.
She learnt skating at the age of 12, as a hobby. “I had played hockey before learning skating and found it was very difficult compared to ice hockey,” she says smiling shyly and adds, “But that is my opinion. Others in my team might think otherwise. There are a lot of girls in Ladakh and in small towns near Ladakh who play ice hockey quite passionately. The team that we have now comprises girls between the age group of 16 and 33.”
Their journey was however not easy. Dolma says, “In the previous years, too, we received the invitation to participate at the international level but faced difficulty in acquiring personal equipment and visa for everyone. This time too we were not sure if the entire team will get visas but the association helped us and we somehow managed in time.”
The excitement was so high that “Two girls in the team Tenzin Chotho and Sonam Angmo even decided to dropp their 10th boards to participate in the competition. They will appear next year,” adds Dolma.
In Gurgaon recently to play an exhibition match on the occasion of International Women’s Day, these girls exuded amazing energy at Iskate. The captain informs that they are supported by their families back in their hometown. Their coach Abdul Hakim Giri says, “Practising in ice rinks is expensive so the girls wait for winter months to skate on the frozen lakes. They practice one-and-a-half-hour every morning and alternate evening.”
He has been familiar with the girls since they were in their adolescence and feels proud to have been coaching the team. Giri adds, “They are like my own daughters and I felt so happy when the news came in that they will be able to go to China and play for India. Though they had been playing for the National Championship matches in Leh, representing their country will boost their confidence to new heights.”