Namita Toppo is keen to make up for the lost time after a lengthy injury lay-off as she’s focuses on catching up to speed with her India women hockey teammates. Currently at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru, Toppo continues to train alongside the entire squad under the keen eyes of coach Sjoerd Marijne. Also Read - Are Olympics Happening In 2021? Roger Federer Wants An Answer

The midfielder had won her 150th international cap back in July 2018 but later on, a  knee injury would push her to the sidelines as she made her return only by September last year. Also Read - Indian Olympic-Bound Race-Walkers Test Positive For Covid

Toppo has opened up on the struggles she was going when away from the action and with no certainty around her recovery period, she feared for not making the cut for the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics. Also Read - Badminton: Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth's Chances to Qualify For Tokyo Olympics Virtually Over With Singapore Open Cancellation

“I was really struggling when I was away from the team,” she said. “It was close to 9-10 months that I was out of the side, and was nursing my injured knee. I had injured my meniscus, which basically means I had torn my knee cartilage during the Asian Games 2018. I was really worried at first because I was not sure how long it would take for me to come back, especially with the Olympics only a couple of years away.”

The reason behind the pessimism was the nature of injury which left the midfielder thinking whether she would ever be able to make India comeback

“At first I didn’t realise I would be spending about 9-10 months outside, but our scientific advisor Wayne Lombard told me that the type of meniscal injury I had was accompanied by some early onset degeneration – which made things complicated, and it increased my recovery period. It was tough because I would keep thinking if I would ever make it back to the squad. But I spoke to my teammates who had spent similar periods on the treatment table, and I would get some sort of strength,” the 24-year-old said.

In hindsight, the spell has taught her something more important.

“…when I look back now, I think that lengthy spell on the sidelines made me stronger,” Toppo said. “Initially it was really tough because I would have immense pain, and would wake up at night, and start to overthink. I believe my teammates and coaches played a huge role in making sure I was in the right frame of mind.”

After regaining full fitness, Toppo made a successful return to the national squad, helping India qualify for their second successive Olympics.

“When I was finally fit and had regained my touch and sharpness in the National Camp, and was included in the squad for England Tour, I was really happy because I had set a target for myself and I was able to achieve it. I wanted to help my side qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, and playing in the England Tour gave me a chance to prove to Chief Coach that I should be in the team for the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers, which were to take place in November 2019,” she said.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic forcing Olympics to be delayed by a year, Toppo said the young squad has even more time to be prepared for the quadrennial event.

“Our target was always to win an Olympic medal, and even with the postponement, that does not change. It definitely gives us more time to be prepared for next year, and to perform really well. I feel our team is also fortunate enough to not have any ageing players, and this group of players has been playing together for a long time, and I believe one more year of experience will only help us in achieving our goal,” she said.