Sanju’s story resonates as a tale of resilience

AIFF Media Release

NEW DELHI: On a hot and humid evening at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar last year, an Indian Women’s League match came to an abrupt halt for a few minutes when a young footballer screamed loudly as she lay wreathing in pain on the pitch. While everyone around watched in horrified silence, the sobbing player, Sanju, was carried off the ground on a stretcher.

The injury was a huge setback for Sanju, one of the country’s leading midfielders. She had just made her Sethu FC debut and had won the Player of the Match award in the previous encounter before she had to be carried out on that fateful evening.

It wasn’t the end of Sanju’s wretched run of luck. When she was admitted to a local hospital, the doctors confirmed that she suffered an ACL injury on her right leg that would confine her to bed for a long period of time. Unfortunately, this was the second time Sanju had to endure the intolerable pain of an ACL tear – the first time it happened was in 2021, which kept her out of football for around six months.

For a professional footballer, an ACL injury is a piece of heart-breaking news. Yet, this incident turned out to be a challenging point in her career, as it forced her to confront not only physical pain but also the emotional toll of being sidelined from the game she dearly loves.

“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,” Sanju told from Bhubaneswar. 

To put it briefly, Sanju made an inspiring and fascinating comeback overcoming the fiercest agonies despite a year-and-a-half-long injury layoff that nearly threatened to wash away all her dreams. This setback did not let the brave Blue Tigresses slow down in her approach, but changed her attitude and perspective on seeing life from the other side. Sanju felt that her injury made people lose confidence in her, but she never lost confidence in herself. 

Despite all the challenges, Sanju is back in action in the National Team camp for the first time after the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022. She has been called up to the preparatory camp in Bhubaneswar for the upcoming Asian Games and the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers.

Sanju’s story resonates as a tale of resilience, determination, and the ability to turn setbacks into comebacks. Her journey serves as an inspiration to athletes and individuals alike, highlighting the transformative power of maintaining a positive mindset and unwavering dedication, even in the face of adversity. 

“It wasn’t easy,” recalls Sanju. “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.

“I lost it completely for the first few months during my recovery. The pain, the medications, and the recovery process were so long that it took a huge toll on my mental health. I was certainly not going through the best phase of my life, but somewhere I knew this would pass,” the versatile footballer said. 

 “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” the 25-year-old commented and wanted everyone to believe in what she said. It was one of the rarest occasions when a woman player, who suffered two back-to-back ACL injuries, was strong enough mentally to return to professional football and carry on with the game with the kind of competence that took her back to the National Camp.

“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. But again, as a second thought, I told myself that if I stepped back due to my injury, I would fail in front of those who were playing the game. 

 “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 mentioned.

“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 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,” Sanju said. 

Sanju also thanked everyone who was in touch with her to support and motivate during her recovery process.

“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 said.


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