The Indian goalkeeper was striving to make the district hockey team when Sreejesh ran into Olympian and middle-distance champion KM Beenamol.
Veteran Indian hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh says that he only started aspiring for the national team after meeting India’s 2000 Olympics athletics star KM Beenamol, who had visited his school following the Sydney Games.
Though PR Sreejesh had turned his focus to hockey after initially trying out sprinting, long jump and volleyball in school, the Kerala-lad did not dream beyond getting into the district and the state team.
However, all that had changed when 2000 Arjuna Awardee KM Beenamol, a middle distance athlete, visited Sreejesh’s school in Aruvikkara, Kerala.
“In 2000, after the Sydney Olympics, KM Beenamol and hockey player Dinesh Nayak came to my school where they were felicitated,” PR Sreejesh told Firstpost.
Beenamol is also a double gold medallist in the 2002 Busan Asian Games. She won the 800 metres and was part of the 4 x 400m relay quartet.
“I remember Beenamol telling us, 'If I could play for the country, so can you.'
“That sparked a thought in the mind for the first time that maybe if I play well, I can play for India,” Sreejesh remembered.
It was a year later that PR Sreejesh earned a call-up for the U-16 national camp before the goalie went on to make his debut for the senior Indian hockey team at the 2006 South Asian Games.
After staying as an understudy to Indian hockey goalkeepers Adrian D’Souza, Devesh Chauhan, and Jude Menezes among others for years, PR Sreejesh became a national sensation at the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy final.
India faced arch-rivals Pakistan in the summit match and after both the teams could not score in normal time, the game went on to a penalty shootout. PR Sreejesh saved a stroke that helped India win the match 4-2 and consequently the tournament.
Not only did PR Sreejesh become a regular face in the Indian squad since then but he was also dubbed ‘The Wall’.
However, he believes the tag -- Wall -- only suits former Indian cricketer and prolific batsman Rahul Dravid, who earned the moniker for his solid and almost impenetrable defensive technique and patience on the crease.
“Being addressed as ‘The Wall’ feels like a great honour, but for me, the title belongs to Rahul Dravid. He is The Wall,” Sreejesh said.
“I remember it was after the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy win that some newspapers wrote that I am ‘The Wall’ of India, and it got stuck.
“It gives me a great sense of responsibility too because I know they trust me to perform. It is a great feeling and it gives me the energy to keep performing to the best of my abilities,” Sreejesh, a 2013 Arjuna Awardee added.