Sushila Pukhrambam: From crutches to Olympics

A week after she was named vice-captain of India’s squad for the Hawke’s Bay Cup in New Zealand this March, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. It was Holi that day and there were worries the 24-year-old would not be ready in time for the Olympics.

In a span of two years, Sushila has transformed from a promising junior into a valued member of the senior setup.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

A week after she was named vice-captain of India’s squad for the Hawke’s Bay Cup in New Zealand this March, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. It was Holi that day and there were worries the 24-year-old would not be ready in time for the Olympics. Two days later Sushila came to the Hockey India Awards on crutches, her prize for a hundred caps presented to her at the foot of the stage. Any fears over her future, though, were terribly misplaced.

In the last week of May, Sushila led the Indian team at the 4 Nations tournament in Darwin, having completed a rapid recovery. “The physios took good care of me those eight weeks,” she says at the SAI here. “They imported a brace from England for me to wear. I am now back at 100%.”

In a couple of years’ time, Sushila has transformed from a promising junior into a valued member of the senior setup. “What impresses me is her attention to detail,” says the National women’s coach, Neil Hawgood. “She understands what elite sport is about. She is self-driven, and has high expectations of herself. Her recovery from an ACL in eight weeks’ time, and being back playing at a top level, shows how dedicated she is and how dedicated we need athletes to become.”

The halfback’s return to fitness is good news ahead of the Olympics, where India’s women’s team will be appearing for the first time in 36 years. “I always wanted to be an Olympian,” Sushila says. “We tried hard and have now qualified. Now, there is a bit of pressure because our ranking is 13. We have to put up a good show.”

Recent results have not seemed hugely encouraging. At the eight-team Hawke’s Bay Cup, India could beat only Canada, and finished sixth. A series loss to England followed, and later at the 4 Nations tournament, the team finished fourth, losing to Japan in the bronze-medal playoff.

“We have been learning,” says Sushila. “We will not make the same mistakes. As captain at the 4 Nations, I knew I had to play well all the time. If I didn’t, others would say I had done badly myself. I did not want that.”

Sushila comes from humble origins in Imphal, where one of her aunts played hockey for the State.

An impressive Junior career reached its peak in 2013, when Sushila led India to a bronze medal in the Junior World Cup. “That was an indication that she would be a leader in her own way, which is doing everything to her best, whether it is recovery or diet and also making sure others are following what needs to be done for the team to be successful,” notes Hawgood.

Sushila, for her part, is firmly focused on the Olympics. “We need to do well in Rio,” she says. “There is no use in just turning up. The kids who watch us will not be thrilled if we finish 12th out of 12 teams.”