Kunzes Angmo and Rinchen Dolma find winter friendly. Ladakh, a growing tourist destination, is the home of ice skating in India. The fierce winter can freeze you to death but many like these two athletes wait for the unfriendly phase of the year to shape their dreams of performing on thin ice –– hockey is their love. For them winter brings ice hockey. And now the destination is Chinese Taipei, as part of the Indian team, to participate in the 2016 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia. The tournament, which includes teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, apart from the host, will be held from March 21 to 26.
These ice-hockey girls, all from Ladakh, will compete in an exhibition match to be staged today (Monday) at iSKATE (India’s first all-season ice rink). The match on Monday is an effort to raise awareness about ice hockey and seek support from potential sponsors for the team’s participation at the Chinese Taipei tournament. “Crowd funding will help us achieve the goals,” says Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI) general secretary Harjinder Singh.
Kunzes was seven when she tagged along with brother (Rinchen Tundup Haldu) to the ice rink. “The motivation came from watching him move around in such intricate pattern on ice. There was no equipment. We would tie blades to the bottom of the boots and try and skate. Skating led to hockey and the Ladakh Winter Sports Club became out favourite hangout,” said the soft-spoken Kunzes.
Skating became a rage in Ladakh, and Kunzes was hooked on to it. It bore results. She won a bronze at a competition in Poland. “We have two months of severe winter when skating and hockey competitions surface in our region. I took ice hockey seriously in 2010 and have not regretted my decision,” smiles the 27-year-old Kunzes, who is considered a talented player along with Rinchen Dolma.
Ice hockey is almost an unknown sport in India. For that matter winter sports is yet to take off. Recognition is hard to come by. As Harjinder notes, “We don’t have sufficient funds to organise training camps or competitions. The rink in Dehradun has been shut and we have been pressing for facilities from the Government. This is the reason for this crowd-funding attempt for the sake of ice hockey in India.”
Kunzes appeals for support from the society. “Unless people appreciate our hard work the sponsors would stay away. Girls often don’t have personal gear. We borrow from the boys. We don’t have a place to train properly and sometimes it can be embarrassing that we don’t have changing rooms. We wait for the boys to finish their training and allow us some time on the ice.”
Due to lack of opportunities, two of the girls in the Indian team will skip their 10th standard exams. “They don’t want to let go the chance to play. It will be the first international competition for women. I was fascinated by the sport after seeing it at Shimla. My father gave me skates and we trained seriously –– speed skating and hockey skills. In Ladakh we don’t have any restrictions but we need financial support from the Government and the society,” insists 26-year-old Rinchen Dolma, who has a Masters in Physical Education from Punjab University.
Nothing at the cost of education emphasises Dolma. “We can always focus on our career but sport helps a lot. It sharpens your mental fitness and keeps you physically fit. On International Women’s day, I would appeal to all to come and support us. Women deserve respect and recognition from the society.”
Coach Abdul Hamid Giri raves about his ice hockey girls. “They have to potential but if only they had good equipment. None of them has a personal kit. Ninety percent of these girls have not even seen an international rink. But I know they are tenacious and gifted.” A set of personal gear costs approximately 1lakh.
Shomit Datta is a Canadian citizen and helping the boys and girls with ice hockey skills. “Believe me, they are no less professionals than any, eager to learn and willing to work hard. I have seen a huge improvement in a month or so I have been with them, passionate about ice hockey and supporting each other. They won’t let people tell them what to do.”
These girls, undaunted by sub-zero temperatures and driven by passion unmatched, know well what to do. Excel on ice and put it on the National map!