"Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up" goes a saying which has been personified by Harbhupinderjit Singh Samra, a 42-year-old former hockey player.
Samra is the founder and president of the Rural Hockey Development Society (RHDS) which organises Pendu Hockey League (PHL) in Punjab. Samra had a promising career in the sport but was forced to stay off the field after he met with an accident twenty years ago. However, he did not let the adversities dampen his enthusiasm and instead decided to use the resources to help aspiring children become ace players.
"I had got admission in Khalsa College in Amritsar and was selected for the college hockey team. In 1999, our college team went to Faridkot to play the Baba Farid Hockey tournament. On the way to the venue, my scooter skidded and hit a jeep coming from the opposite direction. My spine received injuries at three places," Samra told The New Indian Express.
"A few days later doctors told me that I would not be able to play hockey for the rest of my life. That was the end of my fledgling hockey career, which started in my first year in the college," he added.
He further added that his dream of representing the country was rekindled when he found out about players from rural areas and decided to extend support to them, help them achieve their dreams.
After his marriage, Samra and wife decided to utilize the 'shagun' money of ₹ 67,000 to set up a facility for the training of underprivileged players. In another four years, the hockey development society was established with seven centres in Dosanjh Kalan, Sarihn, Chania, Seechewal, Sindhar, Samrai Jandiala and Tehang villages.
With limited means, Samra's organisation helped organise funding campaign for the league through sponsorship from Capital Small Finance Bank, Markfed, NRIs and other companies.
"A sponsor can contribute anything between ₹ 5,000 to ₹1 lakh," he said.
The publication reported that every year his society spends around ₹10 lakh on training the children, providing for the sports gear, uniform and shoes. He also looks after the dietary requirements of the players besides providing the pick-and-drop facility for them.
Pendu Hockey League
Young PHL players have been selected for several national hockey tournaments such as Under-16 National Rural Hockey, Hockey Indian National Under-14, Under-17 and Under-19, School National Games and Khelo India National Games.
14-year-old Rajini, from Samrai Jandiala village, shared that her parents did not approve of her decision to get into sports. But her decision to play and her persistence and discipline has helped her earn the villager's respect.
"...When they say 'look hockey girls are coming', it gives us a lot of encouragement," Rajini said.
The centre now trains girl hockey players and reportedly at four of the seven centres, there are women hockey teams. Additionally, there are at least 20 girls at each of these centres.
"The rural mindset about girl players is changing,'' said Samra.
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