Inspiring and the Unbreakable Spirit of Sanju, the Indian Women’s Football Team midfielder

Sanju, the Indian Women's Football team midfielder, who was badly injured in 2021, will be making her return to the team after 15 months.
After a devastating injury, Sanju will be back with the Indian team after 15 months. Image: AIFF
After a devastating injury, Sanju will be back with the Indian team after 15 months. Image: AIFF

In the heart of Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium, on a sweltering evening last year, an Indian Women's League match experienced an unexpected pause. The cause – a young footballer's piercing cry as she lay on the pitch, writhing in pain. As the spectators held their breath in silence, Sanju, the Indian Women's Football team player in question, was carried off the field on a stretcher, tears mingling with her anguish.

This incident marked a defining moment for Sanju, a star midfielder and a vital cog in the Indian Women's Football team. Her promising debut with Sethu FC had been rudely interrupted. Despite clinching the Player of the Match title in her previous encounter, she now faced an uncertain road ahead.

"I will never forget that day in my life, "Sanju, Indian Women's Football team midfielder

It wasn't the first time Sanju had stared adversity in the face. A year earlier, in 2021, an ACL injury had forced her out of football for six agonizing months. Now, destiny had dealt her a cruel hand once again, this time a tear in her right leg's ACL, leaving her bedridden. For an athlete, an ACL injury is a heart-wrenching setback. Yet, for Sanju, it became a turning point that tested not only her physical limits but her emotional strength, as she grappled with the separation from the sport she held dear.

In her own words, Sanju told AIFF media, "I will never forget that day in my life. It was my second IWL game for my team, and I was out on a stretcher before I could settle down. It was a nightmarish experience for me. The tears I shed will never go away, the tears that fell will remind me of the pain."

The journey that followed showcased Sanju's unyielding spirit. Overcoming a demanding year and a half of forced rest, she emerged stronger than ever before. Her unshakeable determination not only defied the odds but also transformed her outlook on life itself. While doubt may have seeped into the minds of onlookers, Sanju never lost faith in herself.

Sanju will be back in the Indian Women's Football team after 15 months

Today, Sanju stands tall, back in action at the National Team camp after the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022. Her inclusion in the preparatory camp in Bhubaneswar for the upcoming Asian Games and AFC Women's Olympic Qualifiers speaks volumes of her unbreakable spirit.

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Sanju's narrative transcends the boundaries of a football field. It's a tale of resilience, a saga of conquering setbacks with unwavering determination. Her journey serves as a guiding light for athletes and individuals alike, underscoring the transformative impact of a positive mindset and unwavering dedication, even when faced with the harshest of challenges.

"There were a lot of times when I felt like giving up:" Sanju

Recalling her moments of darkness, Sanju reminisced, "To lay in the hospital bed and watch other teammates play and represent the country was a distressing and traumatic experience. There were a lot of times when I felt like giving up the game that had caused me so much pain."

Reflecting on her newfound fortitude, Sanju's words echo, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." In a remarkable feat, she emerged mentally unbreakable after battling two consecutive ACL injuries. Her triumphant return to professional football and the National Camp stands as a testament to her resilience.

Through excruciating pain, Sanju questioned herself. "Some of the days when my pain became severe, I questioned myself, what is all this for? The game, which I loved the most, is now hurting me to no end." Yet, a second thought arose – stepping back would be a betrayal to those who played alongside her.

I wanted to be an example in the eyes of my juniors of how overcoming injuries and coming back to the pitch can also be a power that every athlete should have," Sanju revealed, her voice brimming with determination.

The moment her name resurfaced in the list of National campers marked a revelation. Doubts that once clouded her mind dissipated, replaced by an understanding of the significance of her journey. "Seeing my name in the list of National campers was the day when I felt how stupid I was thinking about quitting the game. All the pain, the waiting — everything looked worth bearing. I think getting to wear the Indian colours again is the best feeling, not only for me but for any other athlete in my position. 

"I am physically and mentally strong enough to play 90 minutes in any match now"

A gruelling 15-month regime of intensive training and participation in state leagues brought her back, stronger than ever before. Her words resonate with conviction, "I trained very hard in these 15 months, played in the state league, and proved to everyone that I am physically and mentally strong enough to play 90 minutes in any match now. And here I am with my teammates and coaches, training for another two big challenges ahead." With teammates and coaches rallying by her side, Sanju is poised to conquer the challenges ahead – the Asian Games and the AFC Women's Olympic Qualifiers.

Amidst her triumphant return, Sanju took a moment to express gratitude. "I am thankful to my teammates, who used to call me during my rehab days and enquire about my recovery. I am also very grateful to coach Thomas (Dennerby), who texted me regularly and asked about my well-being when I was in Bangalore. I have never seen or heard of any other coach, who remembers his players if they are injured. Training under him has been the greatest gift, she added.

Sanju's journey embodies triumph over adversity. It's a narrative etched with courage, resilience, and unshakable resolve. A story that lights the path for others – where challenges are stepping stones to greatness, and setbacks merely pave the way for an empowered future.

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