Years of struggle and sacrifice paid off, says Indian women's hockey goalkeeper Bichu Devi

Bichu Devi Kharibam Bengaluru: Growing up in Manipur, a state known for its profound love for football, it was only natural that Bichu Devi Kharibam harbored dreams of becoming a footballer. However, fate had other plans in store for her.

Reflecting on her roots in Manipur, Bichu remembered, "Being from Manipur, football was the obvious choice for me. I had a genuine passion for the sport. Yet, it was my father who suggested I give hockey a try, considering my difficulty in making it onto the football team. He assured me that if I didn't take to hockey, I could always return to football."

"As soon as I started playing hockey, I developed a genuine love for the game. Initially, I played as a striker, but due to my agility and height, one of my coaches encouraged me to explore goalkeeping. At first, I resisted the idea, finding it challenging. But as time passed, I adapted and grew into the role. Looking back, it's clear that everything happens for a reason. Without those experiences, I wouldn't be where I am today," she emphasized.

Fast forward to 2023, almost a decade since she first picked up a hockey stick, the young talent from Manipur is en route to Hangzhou for the 19th Asian Games, where India will be fiercely competing for the Gold medal.

Her journey has been characterized by a remarkable ascent, starting with standout performances at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina, where India clinched a historic Silver medal. The following year, she earned the title of 'Goalkeeper of the Tournament' at the 4 Nations Junior Women Invitational Tournament in Dublin. Subsequently, she had the opportunity to represent the Senior Women’s National team in the FIH Pro League 2021/22 and was part of the squad that triumphed at the inaugural FIH Women’s Nations Cup in Spain in 2022.

As she heads to Hangzhou with the goal of securing direct qualification for the Paris Olympics 2024, Bichu expressed her elation at being chosen for the squad. She enthused, "It's an incredible feeling to represent India at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou 2022. All those years of hard work and sacrifices have finally borne fruit. Every athlete dreams of representing their country at the highest level, and I'm grateful that my moment to live this dream has arrived."

One of the most cherished moments in Bichu's life was having her family in Bengaluru for the send-off ceremony hosted by Hockey India. She shared, "It was extraordinarily special to have my family present in Bengaluru for the Sunehra Safar ceremony organized by Hockey India. Witnessing the smiles on their faces as they joined me on stage to present my India jersey was priceless. Seeing their happiness and pride inspired me even more to give my best. It had been a long time since I'd been home, and when I hugged my mother, I vividly remember her tears of joy as she embraced me tightly."

Discussing the team's preparations, Bichu noted, "Under the guidance of Janneke Schopman, our preparations have been proceeding smoothly. We motivate each other daily, pushing our boundaries during training. Excitement runs high, especially for some of us making our debut at the Asian Games."

Speaking about the challenge of facing formidable teams at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou 2022, Bichu emphasized, "Our sole focus is on securing the Gold Medal. We understand the stakes, and we won't underestimate any opponent. We've dedicated extensive time to goalkeeping sessions to rectify our mistakes. To return home with the Gold Medal, we cannot afford to repeat the same errors," she concluded