Jajpur District, Odisha
For seventeen-year-old Sumitra Nayak, rugby is the only identity in her life. She can’t imagine a day without it. Every day she practices in the morning and evening, but Sunday is a rest day. She is the skipper of the Under-18 India women’s rugby team.
She was born in Odisha’s Jajpur district and lived under abject poverty, barely surviving on two-square meals a day. Her father, a drunkard, used to return home late and often abuse the mother and beat her. When she could not bear any more, she brought siblings and Sumitra to Bhubaneswar. Sumitra was only four years old at that time.
In a new city, with a lifestyle much different than in her village, Sumitra’s mother Gayatri, initially struggled for a job. Unable to find any, she was forced to work as a maid for long hours, in order to provide basic facilities to her children.
While working at one of the houses, Gayatri learnt about K.I.S.S. and its facilities, and enrolled Sumitra in 2008, without a second thought. Sumitra was instantly drawn to a ‘strange game,’ which her friends informed was called ‘rugby,’ and soon the girl from the slums was very interested in the sport.
It was love at first sight with rugby for her. Though she loved physical sports, she couldn’t play any games in the village, because girls were not given that freedom. Even if she showed interest, the villagers would comment that sport is not for girls. Fortunately for Sumitra, she had the backing of her mother, who asked her to break the notions of the society and follow her heart.
Sumitra started rugby practice in 2009, but found it difficult to master the skills. Not ready to back off, she then turned to her coach Rudrakesh Jena and walked the extra mile to become a credible player. In 2012, she played her first State match. Two years later, she participated in the U-13 Women’s Rugby World Cup, followed by the National Championship and the National School Games. She helped her team clinch bronze medal in the Asian Girls Rugby Sevens (U-18) held in Dubai last year.
“I think my coach Nasser (Hussain) sir liked my leadership quality and so I was chosen the skipper. It was a pleasant surprise,” says Sumitra, who is currently pursuing graduation in Political Science Honours from the same institute and is fondly called as ‘Rugby Rani (queen)’ by Dr. Achyuta Samanta.
Sumitra’s unbending attitude towards troubles became an inspiration and last year she was invited to deliver a Ted Talk in Pune and was introduced as a ‘dreamer, achiever and a trend setter.’
On how life has changed post Rugby, Sumitra says, “I don’t know if my life has changed. I rather feel, rugby has given meaning to my life. In fact, for me, rugby is life.”