The goalkeeper was introduced to the sport by her grandfather and her parents’ constant support made it possible for her to have a career.
Growing up, Savita Punia was a shy and reserved child, who would keep away from big crowds.
So having thousands watching your every move on a hockey pitch was not something she envisaged making a career in.
It has been quite a journey from there to now being the vice-captain of the Indian hockey women’s team. It means Savita is almost always in the limelight, a situation amplified by her role as the goalkeeper.
Savita Punia does enjoy the role now and credits her grandfather Ranjeet Punia for helping her discover love for hockey.
“Whatever I am today is only because of my grandfather. His love drove me to play hockey and he was a constant source of encouragement,” Savita Punia told the Olympic Channel.
“I remember the first time I was selected to play for the state, my grandfather had tears in his eyes. He was happy to see me progress,” an emotional Savita recalled.
However, it was not a smooth ride at all for the Indian hockey vice-captain.
People in her hometown in Haryana did not feel sports was the appropriate career choice for a girl. For them, her place was in the house doing the daily chores.
Moreover, when Savita Punia first started thinking about playing hockey professionally, her mother’s arthritis flared up, which made her bedridden for long periods of time.
Circumstances were against her, but Savita Punia’s family came to her rescue.
“My grandfather never went to school, but he was very open-minded. He always encouraged me to continue with hockey come what may,” stated Savita.
“Even when my mother fell ill, my parents never felt that I should stay back and help out at home. They knew I would not be able to pursue my dream, and they backed me all the way.”
“So that’s why my grandfather and my parents are my biggest role models in life.”
The support would also prove crucial later in her career.
Savita Punia, after making her debut for the Indian hockey team in 2008, was still not assured of a starting spot a few years later and spent a lot of time on the bench.
However, her parents’ pride at her being the reserve goalkeeper kept Savita going.
Savita Punia went on to establish herself in the Indian hockey women’s team in 2013 and played a stellar role in the runup to Rio 2016, a first Olympics appearance for the women’s team in 36 years.
It may not have been an ideal campaign – the Indian team ended last – but the women’s performances since then have led many to believe that a first Olympic medal is waiting to be won at Tokyo.
And Savita Punia, spurred on by the belief her late grandfather and parents had in her, will most likely be in the spotlight as the Indian women seek to create history.