Kajal is a national-level field hockey player. She has represented Maharashtra in several events and competitions, and before the pandemic held Khelo India Youth Games in Guwahati, she even added a bronze medal to her name, blazing a trail for many a budding athlete like her. But as promising as it all sounds, the beginning of Kajal’s sports career was rather bumpy. Kajal is a national-level field hockey player When most girls of her age would carry school bags on their back, Kajal had slightly different responsibilities on her shoulders. Instead of books, it was fodder for her cattle on her head, and in place of a carefree childhood, the duties of an elder sister on her mind. For Kajal, the daughter of daily wage labourers who earned a living by cutting sugarcanes on the fields of other farmers, basic rights like education and schooling – let alone extracurricular activities and sports – were almost out of question. Even survival came at a great cost sometimes. Kajal says “In the sugarcane fields, you always have to be alert since there are lots of venomous snakes like kraits, saw-scaled vipers and cobras,” She recalls, “When I was younger, I knew how to identify them, and I was quick to spot them as well - especially kraits, which are difficult to spot, since they are tiny, and more venomous.” Amidst these childhood musings, however, Kajal’s story of overcoming hardships and pursuing a life beyond a hand-to-mouth existence is not lost. There was a time when her family used to earn less than Rs 300 a day (combining the daily wage of all the family members). For a family of seven, this was barely sufficient for making ends meet. From adversity to opportunity Around seven years ago, however, things took a turn for Kajal. The teenager was introduced to the Mann Deshi Champions Sports programme. Initially, Kajal, like most others who were drawn to the sports programme, was also tempted by the idea of a nutritious meal at the sports academy. However, with time, the love for sports – and her skills at field hockey – would take precedence, luring the then-10-year-old to take up the game with a more serious approach. Kajal was fast and quick since she worked in the sugarcane fields. Soon Kajal began representing Maharashtra at several state and national-level competitions. Kajal’s goal is to represent for India in the Olympics next and she wants to go to Netherlands and play for field hockey club there. While harbouring dreams of a brighter future, Kajal is also acutely aware of her circumstances. She knows that in these parts of rural India, where girls are still struggling with social menaces like illiteracy, child marriage etc., introduction of sports could have a much larger impact, beyond the possibilities of a career or a hobby. In fact, her own life is a testament to this impact. She says, “It is because of sports that I am still not married; my elder sisters were married off at the age of 15 and 17. Hockey has been the main part of Kajal’s life, Hockey also gave Kajal an opportunity to be in the flight. Since she had only watched planes flying above while she was cutting the sugarcane and today because of sports she is sitting inside them. Due to the pandemic, Kajal’s parents have lost their daily wage-labouring jobs. Now Kajal stays at the Mann Deshi Champions accommodation facility where she trains daily, lives with the other girls and eats nutritious protein based diet. All has been provided by Mann Deshi Champions.