Mary Kom striving hard to help aspiring boxers achieve their dreams
Eager to ensure that aspiring boxers get what she did not have growing up, five-time world champion MC Mary Kom is continuing to expand her regional academy in Imphal even though a long-pending inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains in waiting.
Nestled at the foot of Langol hills in Manipur's Imphal West district, Mary Kom's Boxing Academy, spread across 3.3 acres, is around 10 km from the center of state capital Imphal. It currently houses 45 young boxers, including 20 girls, at the three-storey building.
"Mary wanted to give back to the sport which has made her famous and this was her dream come true," the iconic boxer's husband Onler Karong, who is the Managing Director of the academy, told PTI here.
A five-time world and Asian champion, Mary Kom is also the country's only woman boxer with an Olympic medal (a bronze won in London 2012 Games). The 35-year-old was christened 'Magnificent Mary' by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) a few years ago for her stellar career, which also includes an Asian Games gold medal.
The most recent chapter of her extraordinary life journey was becoming a Rajya Sabha MP in 2016 and winning her fifth Asian Championships gold medal a year later.
"We want more academies to come up in Manipur and other parts of the country. With modern equipment and facilities, I believe this is the first of its kind in India. This is the first full-fledged boxing academy with all the modern facilities for the training of boxers," he added.
Mary Kom and the academy are, however, waiting for Modi to formally inaugurate the facility, a request for which has been made to the PM in the past.
"It was completed nearly two years back. We want the PM to formally inaugurate it and so we are waiting," Onler said.
The academy is also a Sports Authority of India (SAI) Extension Centre. It is a part of the Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation.
"The Sports Secretary (Rahul Bhatnagar) has come over here and has seen the facility. We have met the Minister of State at the PMO thrice and he has assured us that the PM will inaugurate it. We are hoping it will happen in a few months or anytime during the year," said Onler.
The academy has a fully-equipped gymnasium, a boxing ring with a 600-seater gallery among other things.
The facility is situated just a few meters away from a dried bed of a lake called Lamphelpat. The land was given free of cost by the previous Congress state government.
Onler said, for now, the academy can accommodate around 100 trainees and Mary Kom is regularly around to monitor the progress of the wards being trained by accomplished coaches such as Charles Atkinson.
Atkinson was Mary Kom's coach during the 2012 London Olympics, where she claimed a bronze.
"She was involved in setting up the training system and gives advice and motivation to the boxers. She is helping the trainees not only in boxing but also in their personal problems.
"There will come a time when Mary will stop (competing). Becoming an MP was not expected but with the love of the BJP government, she was nominated as a Rajya Sabha member and we accepted it. After her stint as an MP, she will be free to completely focus on the academy," said Onler.
The celebrated boxer has got the backing of quite a few private sponsors in running the show.
Main sponsors Herbalife, a global nutrition company, provides for 35 trainees, while Olympic Gold Quest takes care of seven with a scholarship system. Tata Trust looks after 15 boxers while the SAI Extension Centre has 40 trainees under its wings.
"SAI gives a monthly stipend of Rs 600 to their trainees, besides their apparel and a coach. We want to request SAI that it should also provide food. Right now, we are providing food to the SAI trainees," said Onler.
Asked about the challenges he and Mary Kom have faced and could face later, Onler said, "We have been facing challenges from the beginning. Initially, the academy had just 7-8 boxers and one punching bag and we do not charge from the beginners.
"Most of boxers are from poor families and are from far- flung areas. We've to take proper care of them and groom them.
"Now most of the challenges have been overcome. Sustenance of the academy is also going to be a challenge but as of now, we have some sponsors who are willing to be our partners for at least three years."
All the trainees are above 11 years of age and inducted through trial. Currently, most of the trainees are from Manipur. The beginners are in 11-16 age bracket. There are coached for each of the three categories.
Even tournaments are being held at the academy to ensure exposure for the trainees.
"A tournament needs least Rs 3-5 lakh, so we have proposed the Manipur Association to hold tournaments at a three-month interval. We will get the sponsors to give at least Rs 15 lakh in a year for these tournaments.
"We had a tournament here last year and it attracted a big crowd. But the gallery has a capacity of just 500-600 people. So we want to build an indoor hall which has a seating capacity of at least 1500 people. If there is an indoor stadium, trainees can train when it rains."