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Saturday, August 08, 2020

Asian Games 2018: The making of Lalremsiami, Indian hockey’s brightest prospect

Lalremsiami, youngest player in India women's hockey team, hails from a small village in Mizoram and is playing the Asian Games.

Written by John Zothansanga | Aizawl | Updated: August 20, 2018 2:35:49 pm
Lalremsiami India hockey Lalremsiami is just 19 and is playing the Asian Games.

While the Indian women’s hockey team was packing their bags for the continent’s biggest sports festival, the Asian Games, with Lalremsiami being the youngest player in the squad, we were in search of the player’s house in Kolasib, a town just 85 km north of Mizoram’s capital Aizawl.

Siami, as she is fondly called by her teammates, is believed to be the brightest prospect in Indian hockey and was awarded ‘the Under-21 rising star award’ at the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy, where she played a total of 31 minutes in five matches and scored two goals, helping India win silver.

“You will have to take that road,” says an old woman, pointing towards the road going downhill. The road has no proper street lights, and filled with potholes and mud.  A small house – with a wall covered with medals, citations, and trophies – is at the end of the road.

“It’s not easy to visit us,” admits Lalthansanga Zote, the player’s father. He stays with his wife and parents, and is watching an interview of him on a local television channel. “I’m getting a lot of interviews these days, thanks to my daughter,” he smiles.

While we were looking at the citations, trophies, and medals hanging on the wall, Lalremsiami’s mother pointed to one particular trophy.

“This is not hers, Its a trophy won by her brother. They are talented, even one of her brothers reached the second round of this year’s Mizo Idol (a singing competition in Mizoram). He will sing live next week,” she says, smiling with pride.

In a family of 10, where farming is the only source of income, how did a girl from a small town in the football-crazy state of Mizoram take up hockey, and become aware of the game?

“There is a playground near our house where young girls used to play hockey. She, along with her friends joined them, were spotted by a school hockey coach and was selected for the school games. That was the beginning,” says Lalthansanga.

When Lalremsiami represented her school at inter-school sporting event at the age of 10, she was adjudged as the best hockey player and awarded a cash prize of Rs. 500. “That was her first earning from hockey,” recalls Lalthansanga.

Since then, the journey of the timid and soft-spoken Mizoram girl, has been an exciting and incredible one. At age 11, Lalremsiami was selected to join the state government-run hockey academy in Thenzawl.

“When she told me she was selected for the academy the first thing I asked her was, ‘Is that for free?’ because I knew we couldn’t manage to do it if they asked for a monthly fee,” says Lazarmawii, her mother. “When she was about to leave for the state academy, she told me she will represent India one day. But I just laughed it off,” says Lazarmawii.

“I knew she is quite good at the game from her coach, but playing for India? That dream was way too big for a mother, who doesn’t know anything other than farming,” says Lazarmawii. She admits she couldn’t share her daughter’s dreams initially.

Eight years later, Lalremsiami got first call for the senior team, and she helped India win gold at the 2017 Asia Cup. She then went on to represent India at the 2018 World Cup, where she was the youngest Indian player at just 18.

Struggling to make ends meet at times, even Lalremsiami joining the National Hockey Academy in New Delhi in 2016 required a lot of dedication from her parents. They couldn’t even visit Lalremsiami when she was in Thenzawl, only because the taxi fare to the academy was around Rs 300.

“She once called me saying she only had two rupees left in her pocket. I feel like I failed her, not doing enough for my daughter, and that hurt me the most,” says an emotional Lalthansanga. But he refused to give up.

“I called one of her roommates, whom she used to call Didi (current India captain Rani Rampal), and requested her to lend Lalremsiami money,” he smiles. “They are good people, they give her what she needs and I’ll arrange it later on,” he says.

Despite a lack of funds, Lalremsiami’s parents continued to encourage their daughter, despite her not having it easy in the national team.

“When I first arrived in Delhi, I couldn’t even speak a single word of Hindi,” says Lalremsiami.

“My first biggest fight was the language barrier. I continued to learn through my Mizo-Hindi dictionary, while Didi (Rani Rampal) also helped me a lot. My Hindi is a little bit okay now,” she says.

While she’s still not fluent in ‘Hindi’, Lalremsiami continues to entertain Indian hockey fans with her pathbreaking performances and she’s dreaming of a gold medal from the Asian Games around her neck.

“We hope people will find India women’s hockey team on the medals tally table,” says Lalremsiami.

With her incredible skills and supreme control over the ball well known, and acknowledged as a talented forward who has exceptional ability in one-on-one situations, Lalremsiami surely is not just the next big thing in Indian hockey, but perhaps the sporting world.

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