The 21-year-old player has also seen her fair share of struggles.

Born in a small village named Mugal Chak in Naushehra Pannua taluk, Punjab, Rajwinder Kaur the eldest of three sisters and a brother grew up in a culture where girls had to work the chores at home and sweat it out in nearby farms for daily wages. Studying was never mandatory, and playing hockey was a rarity.

Her father an auto driver and mother a housewife, there were days in Rajwinder Kaur’s growing up years when hoping to eat three meals a day was a luxury. But her fate changed when a few seniors in her school Sri Guru Arjun Dev Public School insisted on her taking up hockey.

“I wanted to be an athlete. I had the speed but when I was in standard IX, my seniors asked me to pursue hockey, I took the chance,” says Rajwinder Kaur, who is part of senior national core probable group of the women’s hockey team.

Her speed, abilities and natural flair as a striker caught the attention of national selectors during domestic tournaments in 2015. Soon, she was picked for the Junior National Camp and was given an opportunity to play for India at the U-18 Asia Cup 2016 in Malaysia.

She recalled, “In 2017, I received a call up for the senior national camp where I got to closely interact with several top players. Everyone comes from very difficult backgrounds and each one’s personal story is motivating but Rani Rampal’s struggle in her younger days and her subsequent rise in the sport gives me hope because I too come from a similar background and I hope I can also pull my family out of poverty by doing well in hockey.”

Having been a regular in the senior national core probable group since 2017, Rajwinder Kaur patiently awaits her turn to earn her maiden International Cap. She remarked, “I do feel disappointed when I don’t see my name in the 18-member squad but I know I still have a lot of time and chief coach Sjoerd Marijne points out my shortcomings in a positive way and encourages me to improve on those areas. I know I have the skills and speed, I need to work on my fitness which is a weak point and since I mostly played as a striker in Junior days, I need to adapt to playing in the midfield.”

Back home for a break, she recalls her time during the nation-wide lockdown when the team was in SAI, Bengaluru. Not allowed to train hockey, Rajwinder used this period to build self-confidence and learn the English language.

“When I came into the Senior Camp, I found it very hard to understand because I didn’t know English. I used the time during lockdown to learn the language using different books, online translations, and I would stand in front of the mirror and speak English,” she concluded.