A gym session gone awry had threatened to end her career but after two eye surgeries and months away from the game, midfielder Reena Khokhar is looking at sealing her place in Indian women’s hockey team for the Tokyo Olympics.
Reena, who was a regular feature in the Indian squad since her debut in 2017, fought her way through the challenging times with strong will and a tremendous support system.
“I was using a stretch-band to do some simple flexibility exercise when the band snapped and hit my left eye. It happened so quickly that I had no time to react. At that time, little did I know that the next four months would be the worse phase of my life,” recalled Reena.
She was part of the team that won the silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games and also played the FIH Women’s World Cup in the same year. She was going along nicely until the mishap in 2019, which cast a doubt on her participation in the all-important Olympic Qualifier.
“Initially the doctor has said it will heal soon but even after a month when the pain was persistent, the doctor then advised surgery to rule out permanent damage to the retina. This news was devastating and all I could think of was whether I will ever play hockey again,” said the 26-year-old Reena, who is from Chandigarh.
After a brief break, Reena returned to the national camp in July.
“I was advised two months bed rest and when I returned to the camp chief coach Sjoerd would talk to me regularly to pep me up. He would tell me about a player in Netherlands who played hockey with vision only in one eye.
“Positive stories like these and emotional support from my parents and some close friends outside of hockey kept me motivated.
“When I held the stick again, after almost three months, I knew I would do anything to return to the team and I am thankful to the coaching staff who supported me with step-by-step return to full training and didn’t put any kind of pressure,” she said.
To the surprise of many, Reena was available for FIH Olympic Qualifiers selections, having made her comeback in the Test Event in Tokyo in August 2019.
She went through another corrective surgery in December, but the danger had passed by then.
“I got a break in the Indian team quite late. I was around 24 when I made my India debut and my junior India experience is less, so the next one year I will do everything I can do prove myself worthy of a place in the Olympic-bound India squad,” she said.
(with PTI inputs)