The former Indian hockey captain was told he would never again pick up the stick but made a fairytale comeback.
One of the greatest captains the Indian hockey team has ever produced, Sandeep Singh almost could not fulfill the early potential he showed in his junior career.
Having become the youngest Indian hockey player at 17 to play at the Olympics in Athens 2004 and becoming the highest-scorer at the Junior World Cup a year later, Sandeep Singh was on his way to stardom.
In 2006, the Punjab youngster had been called up for his maiden World Cup in Germany, but his life turned upside down just days ahead of the event.
On August 22, while travelling by the Kalka Shatabdi Express to join his teammates in Delhi, Sandeep Singh was hit by an accident bullet from the pistol of a Railway Protection Force jawan. The bullet hit the lower abdomen. Sandeep Singh's world came crashing down.
“The local hospital in Ambala did not have the facilities to treat and so, I was rushed to a bigger hospital in Chandigarh, which took time because there was a lot of traffic for the ambulance to negotiate,” Sandeep Singh stated on an Instagram Live with former wrestler Sangram Singh.
“The doctors had to make a large cut from my chest to my abdomen area to get the bullet out. There were a lot of complications during the procedure and I regained my senses after close to 30 days.”
The doctors informed Singh that he would be paralyzed below the torso and he would be confined to a wheelchair for life, and deemed that he would never be able to pick up the hockey stick again. It was a shock for the then 20-year-old.
“Doctors told me to reduce painkillers if I ever wanted to recover quickly. So there were times that I had to live with unbearable pain,” Singh revealed.
“Many a time, I would sleep for just an hour a day because the self-doubt would just consume me.”
Hockey was the only thing he had loved, so Sandeep Singh brought out his hockey stick and would keep it around him to motivate himself.
And another thing he believes that helped him recover were his mother’s constant prayers.
“She was a big inspiration and helped me a lot with overcoming the negativity inside me,” he said.
The former Indian hockey captain started walking a year on from the incident and regained his place in the team in 2008 and after the team could not make it to the Beijing Olympics that year, he knew what his next target would be.
“My goal was to help India qualify for the Olympics and during our qualifying rounds for the London 2012 Olympics held in New Delhi, I scored five goals in a game, clocked a 145 kph stroke and also beat Dhanraj Pillay`’s record of highest goals scored by an Indian in a tournament,” Sandeep Singh rattled off from his memory.
After the bullet incident, Sandeep Singh reached a career milestone when he was the Man of the Tournament in the 2009 Sultan Azlan Shah tournament.
Having retired in 2016, the former Indian hockey captain now serves as the sports minister in the state of Haryana, as he aims to help the next-gen develop.
Sandeep Singh also has a biopic, Soorma, based on his rollercoaster life as a hockey player.