Since she wasn’t really a “girly” girl, Karen Pais preferred playing sports of demanding nature with her brother and his friends. She started off her sporty adventure by playing cricket, badminton and football in the building compound with the boys. However, as her life started to revolve around football, cricket and badminton took a back seat as fun sports.
Karen’s major footballing break came when she started training with a local club, Vintage Football Club. She would pass the club’s football ground very often, and inspired by kids practising there one day she decided to join the club. She played for Vintage for a significant period, and her training with the club helped her gain admission into her school’s girls football team. Karen, along with her Mary Immaculate Girls’ High School team, soon started winning MSSA (Mumbai Schools Sports Association) tournaments. Her talent also found her a spot in the Mumbai District team as well as the Maharashtra team.
As she kept playing more and more games and kept winning more and more laurels, her liking for the sport also burgeoned. As it turned out, Karen’s skills got her a call-up from the India camp scouts for juniors. Her first taste of an India camp came to pass when she was just 11 years old and she was exhilarated to get through various selection rounds, becoming one of the youngest members of the under-13 squad.
“Competition keeps getting tougher every year, so I have to keep practising. Just because I was selected in the national team last year, doesn’t necessarily mean that I will get through next year too. I have to practise very hard and prove myself every time I play for the national team,” says Karen, who has also represented India in under-14 and under-16 categories.
During her third stint at the India juniors camp three years ago, Karen was also announced as captain of the under-14 team and she admitted her joy knew no bounds. “I was on top of the world! I was so happy! I was certainly not expecting something this amazing! People were looking up to me for motivation. Someone asked me for my autograph as well. It was a great feeling!”
The Mumbai girl plays for the India juniors teams as a left-back, and as a striker during her club/league matches and inter-district games. From defender to midfielder to striker, Karen has played in various positions, and that speaks to her versatility and flexibility. This also helps her in other aspects of life as regards adapting to different situations.
Surely, the beautiful game has helped her become a better person. She has understood the importance of discipline, time management, team spirit and work ethics. “Early to bed and early to rise” is her motto now, as she wakes up early to practice at 6:30 am. Football has also helped Karen to bond with people on and off the field.
Karen is also very grateful to her parents who have supported her every decision and helped her reach where she is today. Initially, she did face some time management issues between football and studies but her parents saw her through as they helped her stay organised. They ensured she drew up a daily schedule and abided by it.
“The thought of playing football refreshes my mind,” says Karen. “With the ball at my feet, running with it and dribbling, the feel of the ground, scoring goals, I love everything about this game!”
Karen, who is presently studying Commerce at St. Andrew’s College, also loves the fact that practice makes her hungry. Who doesn’t love food, right?
“Football makes me want to stay fit and eat healthy. And I like it,” she enthusiastically concludes.