Hooked on rugby, Neelam eyes career in khaki

19-year-old Neelam Patil is pursuing twins goals of competing in the 2018 Asian Games and joining the police force

Neelam Patil, veering away from popular career routes like wrestling, kabaddi, athletics available for girls from Maharashtra interested in sport, is chasing the rugby road towards future India representation. The 2018 Asian Games is a target clear in her mind. The only child in a Kolhapur household, the 19-year-old is also arming herself with general knowledge to clear the exam for gaining entry into the police force. “My parents wish that I become a Police Sub Inspector. I am trying to make their dream come true.”

She listens to motivational talks in between rugby training, videos by top cop Viswas Nangre-Patil features in her favourites list, alongside studies towards a BA (Marathi) at DR Mane Mahavidyalaya, Kagal, where the self-driven player is launching a girls’ rugby team. Ms. Patil is among the lucky few to get parental support to pursue body-contact sports wrestling and kabaddi for pleasure. “I have never faced a situation at home when told to avoid a sport due to danger of injury. Family friends or relatives would raise injury worries, my parents were okay with their daughter taking risks.”

Famous sporting daughters in the nation include Sakshi Malik, after the Olympic medal on the mat. Athlete Lalita Babar is another famous face after Rio Games for her feats on the track. Rugby is more explosive and prone to injury, but Ms. Patil is hooked to the sport. “I have stopped wrestling, because training for one sport overlaps with tournament for another. Rugby has elements of wrestling, kabaddi, athletics, my three favourites. I love the team workouts.”

Pro Kabaddi is a craze across the State, including Kolhapur, where the teenager is convinced of a career in rugby. Ms. Patil says, “I like facing challenges upfront. On the rugby pitch, I play as the hooker or the forward. I like attacking roles, even in kabaddi at school I was the raider.” For Ms. Patil, the Asian Girls U-20 Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong this weekend is the next highpoint. “Rugby also teaches about managing different aspects in team training.” Setting up a girls’ rugby side in her college is part of a plan. “I hope to play All India University tournaments.”

The feisty teenager feels rugby allows her to express herself on the pitch and improves self-esteem. “Doing well in any sport assists in gaining confidence. I enjoy rugby since it allows me to use qualities like burst of speed seen in athletes, powerplay in wrestling and fast reactions in kabaddi.”

Now when a movie script revolves around a women wrestler from Haryana, Pro Kabaddi players are becoming celebrities, the Kolhapur teen hooked to rugby retorts: “I have been told there is a career in rugby. Rugby Sevens is a medal sport at the Olympics. My target is to get into the Asian Games squad.”

The bold bursts and physical play in the sport she loves will be handy in a career in khaki