Lalremsiami’s fledgling career, as strange it sounds, can resemble the ongoing lockdown period due to the Covid-19 pandemic: only a few weeks have gone by but, at times, can leave you feeling that it has been ages.
The forward has been with the senior team for just over two years but it would not be a stretch to call her one of the crucial members of the India women’s hockey team.
Barely out of her teens, Lalremsiami has already made a mark, on and off the field. Defenders and goalkeepers struggle to keep pace with the Mizo forward’s movement and eye for goal. Her trophy cabinet is also running out of space. Recently, she became the first Indian woman to be handed the the FIH Rising Star Award.
Nicknamed ‘Siami’, her career has only seen an upward trajectory so far and is far from resting on her laurels.
“These awards don’t put pressure on me at all,” Lalremsiami told Scroll.in. “I wasn’t expecting to win anything, to be honest. But I feel that the awards will motivate me even more to put in the hard yards and perform for my team in the biggest of stages. I have to continue playing the way I have been in the last few years and keep moving forward,” she added.
Between the goals, assists and the euphoria, Lalremsiami had a tough time acclimatising to the senior team. With little understanding of English or Hindi, communicating with the players and the coaches was a task. But the 20-year-old found an unlikely companion; on then-coach Harendra Singh’s insistence, Lalremsiami and skipper Rani Rampal had become roommates.
“When I had just joined the Indian senior team, Rani di was my roommate,” she said.
“All my teammates knew that I didn’t know English or Hindi so they helped me learn the languages, but Rani di especially helped me a lot.
“She used to teach me Hindi and help me with my game as well. Whenever I had any doubts about my game, I’d go and ask her. She is my favourite player and it’s just amazing to be playing alongside her for India.
“I used to watch Rani di and other senior players on TV that time, and therefore it has been really great to play with some of them. I want to be a player like her [Rampal] someday.”
Lalremsiami hit the ground running straight away, scoring two goals in the 2017 Asia Cup, which India won. One of her goals came in a six-goal thriller against Japan in the semi-finals. She has fond memories from the event.
“I think my first tournament was the turning point for me,” Lalremsiami said. “We qualified for the 2018 World Cup after winning gold there so the tournament was a big boost for me. I played well in the competition which gave me the belief that I belong at the senior level.”
Since the pint-sized forward entered the Indian setup, the team has been on an upward swing over the past two years. However, tragedy struck as her father Lalthansanga Zote, a farmer, passed away while the FIH Series Finals entered the business end of the competition. India needed to win their tie against Chile to progress to the Olympic qualifiers.
A bereaved Lalremsiami decided to stay put and India outclassed Chile 4-2. India confirmed their berth for Tokyo with 6-5 aggregate win against USA, thereby qualifying for the mega event for a second consecutive time.
For Lalremsiami, it was the realisation of a childhood dream, fuelled by her desire to give her father a parting gift. She was backed by her parents to take up the sport and as a 11-year-old, she relocated to a Mizoram government-run hockey academy in Thenzawl, located 170km away from hometown Kolasib.
Having already shown that she is ready to grab the opportunities that Sjoerd Marjine offers her, Lalremsiami made an instant impact with the stick in her hand. Her goal in the 2018 World Cup against Italy stood out for its classy technique. While making a name as a goalscorer she thinks her game has improved leaps and bounds.
“I didn’t have many skills when I joined the senior team,” Lalremsiami said. “My seniors tell me now that I have improved a lot in the last few years. I have developed many skills over the course of my time with the Indian team. I saw the way my teammates played and tried to pick up skills on my own. I have particularly tried to work on ball-striking. I think I have to improve my forehand ball-striking further... I have tried to focus on that in the last few months.”
Despite the international calendar going haywire because of the pandemic, Lalremsiami, who recently celebrated her 20th birthday, has already re-positioned her goal posts (at home for the time being) now that she’ll have to wait another year to play in the Olympics for the first time.
“Our target remains the same,” she said. “We are still focussed on performing well at the Olympics and we are trying everything we can to stay in touch with the game at the moment.”
Lalremsiami added: “We do some stick-work drills in our rooms and watch some of our previous matches to note down aspects that we have to work on. We are also looking to maintain our fitness by carrying out core exercises in our rooms. We are looking forward to getting back on the pitch as soon as possible.”