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From a helpless child to a successful sportswoman, Pooja defied all odds

The school brought peace in the entire household as Pooja began to settle in a routine.

Sneha Singh | Updated :

Pooja was just 6 months old when she contracted brain fever. She recovered, but it left her hearing and speech impaired. The anxiety in the family increased as each day rolled out. Her mother recalls how one day her father kept honking in front of her but failed to get any reaction from her.

Her walk continued to be extremely unstable. This even triggered sneers, and later became a cause for concern. Her early childhood did not include education as no school was willing to admit her.

The same Pooja now represents the Special Olympics Bharat’s women players’ contingent for football.

“We came from a very poor background, only had a small shop. It was very difficult for me initially to enter a school,” Pooja recalls.

Her mother was also suggested to leave her in an orphanage, but she could never do that. Though their family and friends have always wished them well, no one really came forward with the relevant support. Her parents and siblings were all alone in this struggle.

It was only when Pooja was 9 that a chance meeting with a stranger introduced her parents to the Asha Public School Dwarka, Palam village Delhi. With tremendous support from the Principal of the school, her parents were convinced that this was most appropriate option for Pooja. She is now in the 12th grade.

The school brought peace in the entire household as Pooja began to settle in a routine.

At the age of 13, she joined Special Olympics Bharat. She participated in athletics, football, floor hockey and even bowling. She was selected for floor hockey and participated in the SO World Winter Games Austria 2017. Pooja has improved her social behaviour. She is able to communicate her message across to her co-athletes, although laboriously.

Talking about her experience, in Austria, Pooja said, “When I had gone to Austria, I participated in floor ball. I was very happy to visit Austria for the first time and represent India in the sport. I faced a lot of difficulties getting my passport too but tried my level best to overcome all odds and represent the game. I felt really nice going out of the country for the first time.”

“Before going to Austria, I used to practice in the parks near my place. I used to go at 4 am in the morning and practice for the next two hours. My mom used to take me there every morning and they have supported me a lot. We are not very rich but my father never compromised on my diet,” Pooja added.

Suresh, her coach, has seen her performance in football since January 2017 at the Frank Anthony School in New Delhi where she comes regularly for football sessions. He recalls how she has progressed from no knowledge to now know enough to be able to teach passes to others. She is conscious even to be dressed as an athlete.

Earlier, she would come wearing casuals, but now she is particular about wearing the sports uniform. Her football skills, her shooting…everything has improved, as she makes a conscious effort to every detail of the game. Her footwork is powerful. She even sets the position and liaises between me and other teammates.

“I feel very happy and emotional representing my country every time I get a chance. It’s a moment of pride for me to play for my country,” Pooja said when asked about how does she feels representing India.

Pooja participated in the Female Futsal held in Haridwar, Uttrakhand in February 2018. In March 2018 she was selected to play the Unified 11-a-side football match with the Delhi Dynamos Coaches.

Pooja’s parents have always been supportive of her participation in Special Olympics. “I have seen my daughter excel in every sport that she plays. She is very confident. Sports has brought in her determination to win, she feels successful.. Just that I want her to settle in life.”