Dubai: Even a bypass surgery failed to stop this hockey player

The 51-year-old recently competed in the Masters Indoor World Cup — his 10th international tournament since undergoing surgery


Rituraj Borkakoty

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Dubai resident Shanavas Valappil is confident of playing many more tournaments. — Supplied photo
Dubai resident Shanavas Valappil is confident of playing many more tournaments. — Supplied photo

Published: Mon 29 Apr 2024, 7:48 AM

Last updated: Mon 29 Apr 2024, 8:54 PM

Advancing years and a serious heart condition may dampen the spirit of many people, but if you are Shanavas Valappil, you embrace all that with a big smile and a bigger resolve.

It was in 2018 that Valappil had a rude awakening. A club-level hockey player in the UAE who had been juggling his professional life and sport for more than two decades, Valappil was stumped when doctors asked him to go for a bypass surgery for a serious heart condition.

Valappil had just started participating in elite international hockey competitions for veterans to become a globetrotting senior athlete.

A fainthearted individual would have shown the white flag, but Valappil remained undeterred. He underwent the critical surgery in Kochi, Kerala, and 14 months later, returned to the hockey ground for competitive matches.

The 51-year-old recently competed in the prestigious Masters Indoor World Cup in England — his 10th international veterans hockey tournament since undergoing surgery.

“When I was going for the surgery, I knew that this was not the end of the world for me as an athlete. Not even for a single second such thoughts crossed my mind,” Valappil told the Khaleej Times.

The head of the sales department at Lacnor, Valappil was named the best goalkeeper at the Pan American Masters Hockey in Mexico last year when his decisive penalty stroke save in the final against Argentinian Masters helped International HC Mexico clinch the title.

The inspiring story of this decorated veteran proves that anything is possible in life if you have the willpower to overcome difficult challenges.

“What I made sure before going for the bypass surgery at the hospital is that I lifted myself emotionally to be a strong person. A lot of support from family and friends also helped me, but ultimately it was all about me, and how I was going to take up the challenges after the surgery. It was all about the willpower,” said Valappil

“I have seen a lot of people who have gone through bypass surgery, people feel like they are going to have a heart attack when they try to walk, they feel very weak physically and mentally.

“But there is nothing to worry about if you remain mentally strong. You just have to remain positive.”

Valappil, who also played hockey for his college team in Thalassery, Kerala, remains very disciplined when it comes to his diet.

“We need to compromise on a lot of stuff to be a good sportsman,” he said.

“So you should not be an alcoholic, you should not be a smoker, you should follow your diet properly. No junk food for me and I rarely eat red meat. Basically, you should be able to avoid a lot of things.

“You know Usain Bolt used to win 100m Olympic gold medals in just nine seconds, but people don’t know what all he had compromised in his life to run so fast for those nine seconds.”

Valappil is now confident of playing in many more international events across the world.

“Hockey is a passion, you can’t play this sport for fun. People who play hockey with a passion, will never give up,” said the veteran goalkeeper who represented the World X1 in the recent Masters Indoor World Cup in England.

“It was a different experience playing in that tournament. No words, sharing the dressing room with Olympians and World Cup players and playing with them was a different experience.”

Valappil’s inspiring journey has also moved the doctor who operated on him in 2018.

“I have been in touch with him for a long time. When he came to know about my latest tournament, he called me and said, “I am very happy for you, you are a very brave person’.”

But this Indian expat, who is now preparing for next month's European Masters Hockey League in Germany, admits that he could not have done this alone.

“My friends have supported me a lot, the players, the members, they took me to the ground, for the games, for the training, for set-pieces after I was back following the surgery,” he recalled.

“And of course, I have no words to describe the support I have received from my wife (Benazeer Shanavas).

“She is the one who has looked after my diet, she has always encouraged me to play hockey because she knows very well what hockey means to me.”


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