From borrowing equipment to Asia's finest: The story of Noor Jahan
Noor Jahan was Asia's best goaltender in the recently-concluded 2016 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia.
We are a country where cricket is a religion but there is also one sport which is fighting to put them on the map.
If you talk about hockey, people think it is field hockey. Most Indians are not aware that it is played here. Very few know that they have a national ice hockey team.
Yes, Indian has a national ice hockey team.
Based in Ladakh, Noor Jahan may not have fame or much of a fan-following, but what she does have is passion.
Noor Jahan – Asia’s best
Noor was not just a mere participant in the recently-concluded 2016 IIHF Challenge Cup. She was awarded Asia's best goaltender by the end of the tournament.
The team went on to participate in the 2016 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia which also featured Chinese Taipei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand in Chinese Taipei from March 21 to 26.
The 26-year-old emerged as the best player of the tournament having saved 193 shots from a possible 229.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, she says, 'It was a great feeling. I was not expecting that. It was a learning experience.'
Most of the players are from the Ladakh region in the Indian Himalayas. She has been fighting to win hearts in the quest for international sporting glory.
'I am charged up to do something special in the next few years,' adds the Research Scholar from Delhi University.
‘Had to go from clubs to clubs to borrow equipment’
Although ice hockey is unknown in our country, the sport was introduced by the British in Shimla nearly a century ago. It has been an integral part of Ladakh for about six decades now.
While cricket stars earn millions of dollars in auctions, when it comes to ice hockey, players struggled to raise enough funds to compete.
Let's be honest. The game was restricted to men for quite some time.
Not long ago, the Indian Ice Hockey Association ran a Twitter hashtag #SupportIceHockey to gather funds for the Indian women's Ice Hockey team.
That's where the social media came into play.
'We been crippled by a general lack of funds. We had to go from clubs to clubs to borrow equipment. Before the tournament we did not have any kit,' says the daughter of a traditional jewellery-maker.
She adds, 'The India Ice Hockey Association are working towards the betterment of the sport. Even the local MLAs are chipping in and helping us.'
But, lack of proper equipment and unavailability of a proper rink have somehow affected the sport in Ladakh.
Noor says, 'One of the major hurdles has been the proper ice rink facilities which we lack.'
The lack of infrastructure has made it a two-and-a-half-month sport when it freezes in Ladakh. After winter, you will hardly find any frozen ponds or lakes.
Most of the girls like Noor Jahan are from Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. They play on frozen ponds and reservoirs till March after which the ice melts.
She says, 'The Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation organizes friendly tournaments and has supported the team over the years.'
It’s not an ideal scenario. But she isn't complaining. A new power in Indian Hockey is emerging.
Ice Hockey has been on the rise in India
The sport has come a long way. Ice Hockey needs stamina, speed, endurance and strength to take body slams.
'Ice hockey is an expensive sport. I still remember how before every single match, I had to go and literally beg for equipment. I spent most of my career using second-hand equipment,' adds the goaltender of India.
Her passion for the game is unquestionable. Every winter she strap on her skates and hit the ice.
She says, 'I play for the love of the game. Most girls are driven by passion and the will to represent the country.'
She dreams of winning for the country internationally. But can her passion survive the obstacles in her path to glory?
'This is just the beginning. I want to become the coach and train the next generation after I stop playing ,' concludes Noor.
Next year she will be again competing in the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia. But this time, to win hearts of the people here.