'Something like this was never taken up by the women's hockey team before and I am very proud we used our time during the lockdown for a good cause.'
Familiar routines evaporated for athletes like Rani Rampal following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The indefinite wait to return to training and action has only augmented the resolve of Indian women's hockey captain.
Back on the turf following the lockdown, Rani, who, earlier this year, was voted World Games Athlete of the Year, is now leaving no stone unturned to get herself and the team ship-shape for the postponed Tokyo Olympics and challenges it brings along.
"I have been continuously playing international hockey since I was 14 years old. I have never taken a break and this period surely helped relax, recoup, and be ready to get back to full-time preparation for the Olympics," Rani tells Laxmi Negi/Rediff.com.
Has COVID-19 dashed your dreams?
No, COVID-19 has not dashed my dreams.
As a team, we definitely aimed to do really well at the Olympics, and when we heard about its postponement, we were quite disappointed.
But we are also looking at this as an opportunity to train harder and become better in the next one year.
How did you keep yourself fit during the lockdown?
I did some very basic indoor exercise routine during the lockdown which also included a lot of stretching exercises.
I used this period as a good time to de-train and relax, both mentally and physically.
When you look at the unwanted break, do you feel it could actually prove beneficial in the long run?
Yes, of course.
I have been continuously playing international hockey since I was 14 years old.
I have never taken a break and this period surely helped relax, recoup, and be ready to get back to full-time preparation for the Olympics.
Did you do anything innovative during the lockdown?
I have been studying for my MA exams.
Something we did during the lockdown, and I am very proud of, was raise funds to support migrant workers's families who have been affected by the pandemic.
Through an online fundraiser, where we challenged people to take up fun fitness work-outs, we were able to raise over 20 lakh rupees, which was used to provide dry rations for over 1,000 families.
Something like this was never taken up by the women's hockey team before and I am very proud we used our time during the lockdown for a good cause.
One thing you learned from the current situation.
Every moment is precious and we must be patient.
How did you motivate yourself? Were you disappointed that you would have to reset a few priorities?
I ensured I followed a set routine, dedicating two hours for workout, two-three hours for studying, and also spent about two hours analysing our previous matches.
It is easy to get laid back when there is training and I did not want to get into that lazy mode.
The sports minister has declared that Tokyo-bound athletes will be top priority post lockdown. How good does it feel?
I am very happy that we have a sports minister who is very proactive and athletes's requirements are his priority.
We have been at the Sports Authority of India, Bengaluru, since February and we are happy with the facilities and safety guidelines followed inside the campus. (Rani returned home this week).
What will be the toughest thing to deal with post-lockdown?
It will be very important to continue maintaining social distancing; we need to be very aware of the government protocols and not behave like the battle against COVID-19 is over.
A recent study revealed that one out of six international track and field athletes reported having experienced suicidal tendencies. Team environment is critical as research shows that team training not only boosts performance, but lessens the pain athletes feel.
Do you feel lucky that you play a team sport?
It is quite sad that athletes go through such thoughts. I have always believed sports makes us mentally strong and equips us to deal with any kind of situation.
Also, I feel we were very fortunate to have our entire team, including the coaching staff, stay in the same campus during the lockdown.
Though we were not able to physically meet, the coaches ensured our well-being through regular individual meetings over video calls.
We were asked to open up in case we are feeling anxious or emotionally low.
Also, when you are with teammates in the hostel, there is never a dull moment; there is constant support.
The electric environment in stadiums have helped players to perform. But now, do you think empty stadiums will be the future of sports now?
Maybe that could be the future until a vaccine or cure is found.
It does feel great to play in front of a packed stadium, but there have also been times when we have played with very little audience.
In that sense, our performance won't be affected, I feel.