Jammu: Irtiqa Ayoub 23-years-old from Jammu and Kashmir, discovered rugby when she was 16-years-old, and since then there has been no looking back.
For someone so young, she is fearless, passionate and determined. She is a shining example of how when young girls are empowered and given freedom of choice, they can surmount any challenge.
Irtiqa has also leveraged the power of social media to ensure that her efforts and talent don’t go unnoticed.
As she speaks to me over the phone in Hindi from her home in Safakadal in Srinagar, Irtiqa confesses that she has always been into sports and loved playing football. But when rugby was first introduced in her school, she was hesitant to play.
“I had no idea about the sport, the rules and how it’s played. I hadn’t even seen how the ball looked like. When the coach encouraged us, I decided to give it a try but was still hesitant,” she says. However, after a week of playing rugby, she realised that she was going to enjoy this rough contact sports.
Since then, there has been no looking back. Irtiqa has won seven gold medals at the state level, and seven at the district level. She won a silver medal for Rugby 7’s in 2016 and 2017, and a gold medal for snow Rugby in 2017.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Irtiqa decided to take her love and passion for the sport to the next level and began coaching assignments in schools and colleges across the Valley. When she had started playing, there were very few girls in sports. But over the years, rugby’s popularity has grown not just among girls, but across the Valley.
Sports has become a way to not just channel the spirit of the youth, but to build teams that can play for India. Given the Valley has so much snow, it provides an excellent opportunity for players to play snow rugby too.
The promotion of rugby has undoubtedly changed the lives of young girls like Irtiqa for the better. “I want to learn more. I believe there is a lot of scope and talent in Kashmir. I have been coaching for the past one and a half years and started to reach schools, colleges and tuitions for activities of Rugby sports. I believe we Kashmiris have good talent in all sports and activities, and we just need to believe in ourselves and work hard for better outcomes. I want all girls to feel free and join any sport they want to learn and earn,” she says.
The sheer confidence she displays is surprising, given that no one in her family has worn jeans, been on the field playing rough, and come back home with a broken nose. “My life changed after my father started seeing my pictures on magazines and television.”
#LifeStory is a project conceived and run by The Dispatch to re-introduce the story of the people of Jammu and Kashmir through individual achievements attained by way of institutional engagements. #LifeStory is conceived as an endless series focused at introducing people to each other, and to the world, through the stories of their achievements –the achievements for them as individuals, for their local communities, regions, Jammu and Kashmir and the country.