Born in a small village named Mugal Chak in Naushehra Pannua taluk near Tarn Taran, 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 a daily wage. Studying was never mandatory and playing hockey was a rarity.
As her father was an auto driver and mother a housewife, there were days in Rajwinder's growing up years when hoping to eat three meals a day was a luxury. But Rajwinder's fate was to change 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 the 21-year-old who is part of the senior women's core probables group.
Her speed, abilities as a striker and natural flair 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.
"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's struggle in her younger days and her subsequent rise in the sport gives me hope because I too come from similar background and I hope I can also pull my family out of poverty by doing well in hockey," explains the striker who also doubles up as attacking mid-fielder.
Having been a regular in the senior national core probable group since 2017, Rajwinder patiently awaits her turn to earn her maiden international cap.
"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," she says.
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," Rajwinder recalls emphasising that this period taught her how to be self-motivated.