‘It’s rugby, what boys play’, Laxmi was told

Laxmi Priya Sahoo could feel her sweaty palms beneath the gloves.

She had pictured being thrashed bloody a million times in her head. Now, with her opponent standing across the ring, it seemed inescapable. Even inevitable – more so because her opponent was a four-time world amateur boxing champion. Contrary to Laxmi’s fears, though, the bout against Mary Kom lasted its length, three entire rounds.

“After the bout I walked up to Mary and asked her why she didn’t knock me out in the first round itself,” Laxmi, 25, told ESPN of her maiden senior boxing nationals appearance. “She didn’t want me to think any less of myself, she replied. I was so moved.”

That turned out to be one of Laxmi’s final competitive bouts. She was to soon find a new love – rugby.

It has been a good career move. Last month, Laxmi was part of the senior national women’s rugby side that won silver at the Asian Women’s Sevens in Vientiane, Laos. On Tuesday, Laxmi, her team-mates and junior rugby players were honoured at a Women’s Day function in her native Orissa. Looking on were 5000-odd girl students neatly seated in rows; not so long ago she was one of them, now she was a role model.

Laxmi’s entry into sport is quite a story in itself, one that she narrates with animated passion and the occasional giggle.

As a child, Laxmi was expelled from two schools for the frequent brawls she would get into with fellow students. Her family then got her enrolled for boxing classes in Bhubaneshwar, thinking that the punches that would come her way would knock some sense into her. But she ended up faring reasonably well, winning medals both at the sub-junior and junior level.

At the stadium where she used to train, Laxmi often noticed a bunch of boys huddled together, heads down, arms interlocked, pushing against each other. It was a sight she had never seen before.

“It’s rugby. It’s what boys play. Girls aren’t cut out for it,” her boxing coach told her.

But the seed was planted in her mind. Since there were no female players training in rugby at that time, the only option she had was to play alongside boys if she was to pursue it. She took it up readily.

“The boys didn’t go soft on me because I was a girl. For a whole year I played both boxing and rugby but after suffering a right collarbone fracture in 2009 during a rugby match, I knew I had to pick one sport,” she says.

It wasn’t a difficult choice. “I was advised three months rest by doctors but I couldn’t stay away from rugby and began practicing in 21 days’ time.”

Laxmi has made three international appearances so far and the Laos experience easily ranks on top.

“More than the medal, just the feeling of beating every team was such a high,” she says. “Six of us from Orissa making the team made it even more special.” The scrum, which incidentally drew her to the sport first, is where she figures in now in the team.

India women beat five teams before going down to South Korea in the final Rugby India

Rugby awareness has grown considerably in Orissa over the past few years following successes of its players in the international arena. In the “Get Into Rugby” program – an initiative started by Rugby India four years ago in which the sport is taught in schools – almost half the participants are girls.

What they lack in size, Orissa players make up with skill and speed. “In almost all the teams we competed against in Laos, the players were a lot bigger and stronger than us. But after we won all four matches on the first day we realized we could beat them with what we have.”

Seeded second, India defeated Laos, Philippines, Nepal, Pakistan and Malaysia before losing to South Korea in the final.

Today, eight years into playing rugby, Laxmi says not just her family, but even her neighborhood’s perception toward the sport has transformed from indifference to appreciation.

While her peers back home are getting married, her parents are willing to allow her to follow her passion. Employed with an NGO in Bhubaneshwar, Laxmi trains school children in rugby when she’s not playing herself but is hoping for a government job.

Laxmi’s family had steered her toward sport as a way of reprimand. She picked up that ball, ran with it and is on to a winner.

Source Article from http://www.espn.co.uk/espn/story/_/id/18852471/rugby-boys-play-laxmi-was-told

‘It’s rugby, what boys play’, Laxmi was told

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