Wool gloves and English breakfast tea kept me warm in the bleachers of the ice rink one evening as I witnessed a marvel on skates. With a hockey stick in hand and sporting No. 27 on her back, Symmarana Desai lunged forward and sent the puck into the air and to her teammate. It took me only a few minutes to see the incredible spirit of this young lady. She had just completed an arduous day at school, but her day on the ice had just begun.
With luck, I was able to nab an hour to chat with Simmy, as she is known to friends and family. My mission? To find out more about the young woman underneath the helmet.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
The Indian SCENE: Tell me a little about yourself.
Simmy Desai: I’m 16 years old, a middle child sandwiched between two brothers. My brothers and I were born within 3 years of each other; I can’t imagine my life without them. I was born in Michigan and have been living in the same house in Bloomfield Hills my entire life. I’ve also been at Detroit Country Day since I was 3.
IS: Your full name is Symmarana. Why do you prefer the nickname Simmy?
SD: Probably because it’s easier to say and remember. No one really knows how to pronounce my real name (laughs).
IS: Being a middle child, as you mentioned, can be tough. Who would you say is a part of your support system either at school or at home?
SD: I’m very fortunate to have amazing friends that help me navigate all my problems, whether they be at school or home. They’re all going through the same things as me, so they get it. I know if I ever have any problems that I can talk to my parents. And there’s nothing I wouldn’t tell my brothers. I’m very lucky to have people like them in my life.
IS: What do you admire most about your parents?
SD: My parents have both shaped me to who I am today in different, but equally important, ways. My dad is the most intelligent, hard working person in my life. He’s inspired me to follow his work ethic and work equally as hard. He’s shown me that very rarely in life do things get handed to you, and if you want something you have to work towards it. My mom has shown me how to stand up for myself and the people around me. She doesn’t let people walk over her, and when something isn’t right she speaks out.
IS: You have a particularly unique skill among Indian-American girls. Tell me about how you began playing hockey.
SD: Like I said, I have two brothers and they began playing hockey when they were really little and I started figure skating. By the time I was in third grade, they would joke around and say, “Oh Simmy, you should play hockey,” and my dad would also jump in to joke around. But I never wanted to. Then, one of my friends asked me if I wanted to play hockey and I said, “Sure!” Her older brother played with my older brother, so we just decided together one day during third grade. To this day, we still play together.
IS: What position do you play?
SD: I am a defense-man, but I can play center — so I play forward and defense.
IS: Any reason why you chose the number 27?
SD: My birthday is on the 27th of February and my grandfather’s is on the 27th of October. I’ve had the number since I started playing hockey.
IS: Hockey is such a physical sport. How do you balance that with such a rigorous college preparatory high school life?
SD: Well, I definitely have to utilize my time well during the hockey season, especially during the away games. I know that I have to finish all of my homework at school because I won’t be home until 11 at night. I really use my lunch time and sometimes give up lunch to finish. I have to use my free periods in school and try to finish everything as quickly as I can.
IS: Do you plan on playing hockey in college?
SD: I definitely don’t think I’m going to play in college, at least not on an actual team. I might play some club hockey for fun. But I feel like once I get to college I just need to focus on the academic part of it. So I think senior year of high school will be my last.
IS: With senior year just around the corner, do you have any colleges or universities in mind?
SD: Obviously I would love to go to [the University of Michigan]. Outside of U of M, I haven’t really thought too much about it. I don’t really know. My brother went out of state for college and I think that’s probably something that I prefer to do than to stay in town and be with the same people that I have always been with. But, I don’t really know specifics yet.
IS: With so much academic pressure these days, what do you do during your free time?
SD: I don’t really think that I have any free time anymore, especially this year.
IS: Why this year?
SD: This year is standardized tests and AP and Honors classes. So there isn’t that much time.
IS: That’s a lot of pressure. Do you think you put this on yourself or is it more external pressure?
SD: I think I put them on myself just because — my parents don’t put any pressure on me. I think that they know that I can motivate myself to do well. My older brother got the good test scores and everything, so I feel like I have to follow his path. But I also feel like I have to do as well or even better.
IS: Do you think the pressure or need to do well is different because you are Indian versus some of your non-Indian friends?
SD: Yes! That’s definitely it. Most Indians I know have super-good grades and super-high test scores. It’s not unusual and is actually expected. It’s not seen as something great because it seems like everyone has those.
IS: Speaking of being Indian, what do you value most about our community?
SD: I would definitely say the network in the Indian community; you know so many people and you’ve known them for so many years. It is just one huge family!
IS: What does being of Indian descent mean to you?
SD: I think, as an Indian, there is definitely more pressure on me. Our parents and grandparents came to the U.S., and they had to succeed if they wanted to stay. I think this pressure to do well and work hard has been passed down through generations. I’ve been surrounded by successful Indians my whole life, and I know this hard work will be worth it in the end.
IS: How have you been able to blend your heritage with American culture?
SD: I have a good group of Indian friends in addition to my school friends because they live very similar lives to me, and it’s very easy to relate to them. It’s very refreshing to be around people like me who have parents similar to mine. I have done Indian dance since I was 3 years old, and this has definitely helped me stay connected with my culture. We travel back to India every 3 years or so too. There’s so much to see in India and so much to learn about my culture.
IS: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
SD: My dad is a retina surgeon, and I’m very interested in following in his footsteps. In ten years, I’ve hopefully received the proper education to make this ambition a reality. I’ve been warned that going into medicine takes up many years of your life. I want to have a family when I’m older, and I’d like to believe that it’s possible to have both a career that is demanding and a family.
Simmy’s “Best” List
Best Place for a Hot Chocolate:
Starbucks — the one on Telegraph since it’s on my way to school.
Best Place to see a Movie:
Best Place to Study:
I like going out to study — I go to the Great Lakes Coffee inside the Maple Theater.