When the going gets tough…
His never-say-die attitude ensured Sandeep Singh’s triumphant return from a wheelchair to the hockey field, getting India to qualify for the Olympics
Where there is a will, there is a way. Sandeep Singh’s journey to stardom in Indian hockey proves that. Once paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, Singh has today risen to become the blue-eyed boy of India hockey. In the recently-held finals of the Olympic qualifier, in which India routed France by 8-0, this star drag flicker scored five goals, including a hat trick, and helped India qualify for the 2012 summer Olympics in London.
Born in Shahabad town, Kurukshetra (Haryana), Singh got his first lesson in hockey from his elder brother Vikramjit Singh, a rising hockey star at that time.
Inspired by his brother
Sandeep used to watch his brother play hockey and that’s how he fell in love with the game. “My brother, who is four years older to me, not only inspired me to take up hockey but also taught me every trick of the game. I give all credit to him for my success,” says Singh.
His father, who ran a small business, always wanted his children to do well in studies but when he realised his talented sons’ their potential as hockey players, he encouraged them to play for the country.
A gift from the father that changed everything
When Singh was studying in Class 6 in DAV School, Shahabad town, his father gifted him a hockey stick. Though it was an ordinary stick yet it changed the meaning of playing hockey for him from that day onwards.
“Before that I used to either borrow a hockey stick from my friends or play with any other ordinary stick but when I got it from my father as a gift, I felt extremely motivated. I thought he acknowledged my dedication for the game and vowed to play for the country,” he says.
So, while other students used to break their sticks deliberately so that they would get a new one, Singh ensured he played with utmost care with his father’s precious gift.
Skipped exam seven times for hockey
In 2003, Singh was for the first time selected in the Indian team for the junior world cup, held in Karachi. He shot to fame by scoring 12 goals, the highest by an individual in the tournament. It was due to Singh’s scintillating performance that India lifted this six-nation world trophy for the first time.
This striking performance earned him a place in the senior team. He made his debut in an international event with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Kuala Lumpur. But success eluded him this time.
Singh says that he had to compromise with studies due to his commitments for hockey. “I skipped my final exams for graduation seven times only because I had an important tournament to play,” he adds.
A bullet that changed everything
He can never forget that fateful moment on August 22, 2006 when, while on his way to join the national team which was due to leave for the World Cup in Germany, an accidental gunshot from a fellow passenger in the Shatabdi Express train hit him. “The officer sitting next to me was from the Railway Protection Force. His gun went off accidentally and hit me. I fell unconscious,” he recalls.
When he gained consciousness, he found himself lying in a bed in PGI Chandigarh. The injury paralyzed him and he was confined to a wheelchair.
“I was on the wheelchair for six months and lost all hope of returning to the field. I thought my career was over but my brother kept on encouraging me. All that you need to do is to be resolute to return to the field, he sai. These words turned out to be magical,” Singh says.
Fighting for comeback
These words kept motivating Singh. And one night when every one was fast asleep, “I got up just to check if I could walk. I walked a few steps and returned to my wheelchair somehow. I did it. I had scored so many goals earlier but the joy that I got taking these few steps outdid all my past achievements because for the first time I realised that I could really make a comeback in hockey,” he says.
“Gradually, I started playing hockey with my brother’s help. I used to play the whole night and sleep the whole day because I didn’t want anyone, except my family members, to know about my desperation to come back to the field. I was always afraid that if I couldn’t make it, people would laugh at me,” says Singh.
It took nine months of extensive training for him to return to the field.
Bringing back the golden days
After recovery, his first major success was the Indian team’s victory under his captaincy in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2009. India won the trophy after a long gap of 13 years and Sandeep Singh, with 14 goals, became the top goal scorer of the tournament.
“My only ultimate aim is to bring back the lost glory of Indian hockey. Hockey fascinates me more than anything else in life,” says Singh, who is now terribly busy preparing for the upcoming summer Olympics in London.
I was on the wheelchair for six months and lost all hope of returning to the field... but my brother encouraged me — Sandeep Singh, hockey player