The date was 13 December 2018. India were up against Netherlands for a spot in the semi-final of the Hockey World Cup. Buoyed by the crowd support at Kalinga Stadium, India took the lead in the first quarter from Akashdeep Singh.
Netherlands' Thierry Brinkman equalised just before the end of the first quarter and later in the 50th minute, Mink van der Weerden converted a penalty corner chance to make it 2-1.
No more goals were scored in the quarter-final. Jubilation for the Dutch. Pain for Indian players and their fans. India midfielder Chinglensana Singh was also experiencing pain after the match, both mentally and physically. He knew there was something wrong with his ankle, but he had absolutely no clue that the ankle pain would become his nemesis in future, and that he would miss out on playing hockey for almost a year.
Months after India's quarter-final defeat, Chinglensana led his Railways side to title victory at senior nationals in Gwalior, but more damage was done to his ankle. He had sustained a fracture which would keep him out of the national team, making him miss important tournaments like the FIH World Series and the Olympic qualifiers.
"I experienced pain during the quarter-final tie. After the World Cup, we had a break and I went back home and didn't practice much so the pain subsided. Then I played in the senior nationals and during that tournament, I was experiencing excruciating pain. After the final, I couldn't even walk," Chinglensana said in an exclusive chat with Firstpost.
Once the extent of the injury was identified, Chinglensana knew that the road he had to take to regain full fitness would be an arduous one. The pain, along with the frustration of missing hockey made him question his ability to play again. Seeing him doubting himself, Chingelnsana's family were also worried about his return to the field again.
"I was worried because I was not sure whether I would play again. After a few months, I started doing a bit of running but I couldn't get rid of the pain completely. Even while walking, I was experiencing pain. And then I used to see my teammates playing matches and I was sitting out. It made me really sad. My family understood my plight but they also started worrying because my injury was taking to heal," Chinglensana said.
Apart from the mental aspect, the injury was taking a toll on Chinglensana's body. No physical activity for months resulted in the increase of his weight. He gained five to six kgs, which meant the recovery to full fitness would take more time. That was when he realised it couldn't go on like this. The ankle injury prevented him from indulging in exercises, but thanks to the advice of Robin Arkel, the scientific advisor to the Indian hockey team, Chinglensana started following a strict diet and started working on his upper body.
"I used to strictly follow Robin's schedule, which he made specifically for me. Because of my ankle situation, I couldn't run but I started concentrating on my upper body. Usually, I weigh around 72-73 kgs but it had reached 78 at one point. A dietitian in Bengaluru also helped me a lot. I'm from Manipur so I love eating rice but for three months, I didn't touch it."
The first time Chinglensana touched a hockey stick post the injury was in September, when Hockey India called the national camp in Bengaluru ahead of a tour to Belgium. He was not part of the camp, but he was working with the staff on the sidelines. Just one or two sessions per day. Later the Indian hockey team proceeded to play the Olympic qualifiers in November and Chinglensana came back home. This is when he started upping the ante, aiming to regain fitness. Arkel gave him the complete plan, including the gym schedule and the diet to follow.
India cleared their hurdle against Russia and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Their preparations for the Tokyo Games will start off with the FIH Pro League matches. The team will be up against the best of teams in two-legged home and away matches. Chinglensana had to time his return before the Pro League matches kick off. He had to prove his fitness to head coach Graham Reid and make himself ready for the ultimate Olympics challenge.
The fact that Chinglensana shares a healthy relationship with coach Reid made his task easier. He worked with the head coach earlier when Reid was associated with Hockey India League's team Uttar Pradesh Wizards. There was constant communication between him and Reid and Chinglensana's also credits the head coach for his inputs during the tough time.
The last time Chinglensana played an international was under a different coach – Harendra Singh. He hasn't played under Reid yet. When asked if there's any change to his role in the team, the midfielder denied it.
"There's is no massive change in terms of my role in the team. The only change I had to incorporate was related to defence, off the ball stuff. Otherwise, my role in the midfield is still the same."
Chinglensana has defeated pain and made a full recovery. He returned to the Indian squad for the much-awaited season-opening FIH Hockey Pro League encounter against the Netherlands in Bhubaneswar. It took him some time, but he finished his journey which started on the painful night of 13 December. But another one begins shortly. Chinglensana will now aim to perform consistently for his team, prove his worth in this crucial period ahead of Tokyo Olympics and end it with glory in the month of August.
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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2020 15:55:06 IST