Had a nearby field hockey team not been critically short of players during a practice five years ago, Kendra Sandhu may have never bothered to pick up a field-hockey stick.
Instead, she would have focused on soccer – the sport she had played “ever since I could walk.”
But when the Surrey-based India Field Hockey Club – which Sandhu explained was close to her Surrey Youth Soccer team – mentioned they were seeking new recruits, the now-17-year-old Semiahmoo Secondary student decided to take a shot at a new sport.
“I went out for one practice, and I just fell in love with it right away,” she explained.
Unlike many youngsters – who may not be so inclined to stick with something they struggle with initially – Sandhu said that the challenge of trying something new appealed to her.
“I think what kept me involved in it early was the fact that it was so hard. It is so much different than soccer, and that was intriguing to me – the idea of learning more about something I’m not good at,” she explained.
After years of playing soccer, where you use your feet rather than your hands, the toughest part to get used to, she said, was simply holding the stick.
“It’s seems simple, but it’s only flat on one side, so you have to know how to hold it, how to turn it to use the inside when you hit the ball – it’s just different.”
The feeling of being wanted – regardless of whether or not the club was in dire need of new players – also helped pique her interest that first year, she admits.
“The club kept asking me to play, because I was practising and getting a bit better. And when you’re in Grade 7, and people are specifically asking for you, you feel kind of special, like ‘maybe I’m really, really good,’ even if I wasn’t at the time,” she laughed.
Sandhu’s dedication and perseverance paid off last month, when she agreed to a field hockey scholarship with Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
After visiting “five or six” schools on one family trip earlier this year – “We flew into Boston, then drove around, doing a bit of a circuit,” she said – Sandhu chose Lehigh because of its picturesque campus, as well as the warm welcome she received.
During her visit, she said, a group of field hockey players approached her out of the blue to welcome her to the school.
They showed her the campus and the dorms, and introduced her to the rest of the team.
“I figured they were just wondering why I was there, but they came up and said, ‘Hi, we heard you were coming,’” Sandhu, who plays for India Field Hockey’s premier team, explained.
“They were just so nice. That was a key factor for me – that they were so welcoming.”
And now, even with her post-secondary future secured, she admits the whole process has been something of a whirlwind. At first, she planned to stay in Canada for university, but only because she didn’t know such opportunities to play in the United States existed.
Sandhu credits her dad, Sukhi, for opening her eyes to the possibilities.
“He emailed a few schools for me, and sent them some of my game footage and asked if they were interested,” she explained. “I really just owe a lot to my parents. If it wasn’t for them, none of this would have happened. This is something that I’ve wanted for so long, but it wouldn’t have happened without them pushing me to reach my goals.”
Sandhu will head east soon after her Grade 12 year at Semiahmoo is over – Lehigh’s field-hockey preseason schedule begins in July – and leaving home won’t be easy.
“It worries my parents a lot, but I think I’m ready for it,” she said.
“But I’m a bit nervous, being on the other side of the country where you don’t have your parents and your family with you every single day.
“It’s going to be tough, very bittersweet, but I’m looking forward to it.”