The clock said 4 am on a nippy winter morning. Sisters Smriti and Shagun Chauhan stepped out of Patrakar Vihar, the society in Indirapuram where they stay. It was the first day of winter vacations and most kids their age were comfortably tucked in bed, lost in dreams. The sisters, too, are chasing a dream — that of becoming football legends. Smriti is 15 and Shagun 13, and the focus on their aim is awe-inspiring.
During most vacations, they wake up at this hour every day and accompany their father to the sports complex for a four-hour-long practice session. During school days, they train after school. Both students of Somerville School in Vasundhara, the girls reach home and leave for practice rightaway, around 3 pm.
Most of us are unable to stick to our New Year resolutions beyond the first week. What inspires these young girls to stick to such a tasking regime? Where did it all begin?
Turns out, both the national-level players are self-inspired.
Smriti Chauhan, 15, at one of the practice sessions
Smriti, the elder of the two sisters, was in Class VI when she was introduced to football. She loved it from the get go. Shagun, inspired by her sister, started playing too. Cut to the present, both sisters have dribbled, tackled and scored their way into the under-19 national team. They made the usual journey, rising through the ranks in the under-14, under-17 and under-18 divisions to get here.
When they first started playing, they used to practise in the society park. They, however, had to stop soon, as several residents complained against them. This was two and a half years ago. The sisters have not set foot in the society park with a football ever since. They now practise at the East Vinod Nagar Sports Complex.
Both Smriti and Shagun play for Moonlight FC, an "A" division football club affiliated with Delhi Soccer Association. Smriti plays as a forward, while her sister plays the more defensive but crucial centre back. Smriti has five national-level games to her name, while Shagun has two.
Smriti took part in her first national game in the under-14 team in 2015 against Assam. This was played in Guwahati and followed by an under-15 match in Cuttack. The next time she was selected for an under-19 match organised by SGFI, in Tamil Nadu. She played her next under-18 match in Odisha.
Shagun got her breakthrough with her first under-14 match against Odisha. This was folowed by a match in Imphal. Both the sisters came together for their last match as part of the Delhi under-17 team in Imphal. They say it was the toughest match they ever played.
Both girls believe their greatest driving force is their parents. From father Sanjeev Chauhan waking up at ungodly hours to help his daughters practise, to mother Manju making sure they receive proper nutrition, the parents have not left any stone unturned to be a solid support system to their children. The four work as a unit.
Shagun (top left) and Smriti believe their greatest driving force is their parents, Manju and Sanjeev Chauhan
Image: Samrat Roy
"It is tough for me to deny them fast food and dessert, but I know I have to do it," says Manju. "Girls their age love junk food, but they stick to a strict health diet."
Sanjeev was apprehensive about his girls taking up football as a career but watching them play changed his mind. "Now I encourage them to play with boys, so they can hone their skills and become tougher," he says. "A few days back, I took the girls to an under-14 boys football trial at Modern School at Barakhamba for the experience. I am thankful to Mohammad Haneef Khan, convenor of Delhi State Women Football Committee, and coaches Vikrant Singh, Ashish Dayal and Nirmal Singh for their constant support."
Mohammad Haneef Khan is all praise for the parents. "I don't know any parent who would drive 40 km to a training camp," said Khan. "If they keep this up, the girls will surely go places."
Shagun, 13, was inspired by her sister to take up the sport, but fell in love with it
Both sisters aspire to play for international football clubs someday. Ask who inspires them, and pat comes the reply: Aditi Chauhan, an Indian professional footballer who plays for Westham United Ladies FC and the Indian national team. Who else do they idolise? "Lionel Messi," comes the answer, again in unison.
Apart from being engrossed in football and studies, the sisters also take out time to watch movies.
Wait, two sister, both gritty athletes, waking up at dawn for practice. Where have we heard this before?
"Dangal!" they say. "We loved the movie and could relate to Geeta-Babita," says Smriti. "The movie is so inspiring that we bought a DVD to watch it now and then."