Mary Kom - The journey of India's boxing hero

Mary Kom
A jubilant Mary Kom after winning gold in the 2014 Asian Games

“For a large part of my career, I had no sponsors. I have even, on occasion, paid for my travel to participate in competitions and camps. I have proven that women can achieve as much as men can, and I have shown that boxing can be as engrossing as cricket for Indians. “

These are the words of five-time World Amateur Boxing champion and Olympics bronze medalist Chungneijang Mery Kom Hmangte from her autobiography Unbreakable. Unbreakable is an apt name for her book; her record proves that she has been a champ in the boxing ring, but the title is even more fitting considering the hardship that she had to endure to reach her goals.

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Any person who is familiar with Indian sports will vouch for each and every word in the above extract. It is indeed a great credit to Mary Kom (as she is better known as), that she has defied all odds and has come through with flying colours. Being a woman in a nation which traditionally does not promote sports and reach the zenith is nothing short of remarkable.

Although, the sporting scene is changing for the good in the country, it was not easy when the Indian boxer began her journey.

“I am tough because of my background”

Mary acknowledges the struggle that she has been through. She says that the framed photographs from her boxing career in her living room are a reminder of the fact that all this is not a dream. The fact that she does not have to wake up next morning in Kangathei (her birthplace in Manipur) and get ready for another day of grinding labour in the fields.

But despite a childhood which was full of hardships, Mary doesn’t wish for her formative years to have been any different. In fact, she is grateful for the tough life that she had to lead: “I am tough because of my background. They made me who I am today. They gave me the strength to keep fighting. Indeed, they made me want to fight in the first place.”

The decision to spend a career in the boxing ring

Interestingly, even after deciding to become a sportsperson, a career in boxing was not on Mary Kom’s radar. When her father took her to a National Institute of Sports trained coach, she started training without having any idea of the sport that she was going to pursue.

Dingko Singh’s gold medal in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games definitely gave a boost to Mary’s boxing desires. But it was only a meeting with a boxer named Rebika Chiru that put Mary in the boxing ring forever. It was then that Mary approached her first coach, L Ibomcha Singh and started training as per his rigorous routine.

“I like boxing and will not stop”

She did not inform her parents that she had chosen boxing gloves in her hands. In fact, her father learnt about her daughter’s career choice when he saw her photo in a newspaper after she had won the state boxing championship in 2000.

At first, her father was angry and did not want her to begin a career in boxing. However, Mary Kom explained and won the argument against her father and said, “I like boxing and will not stop. Please understand, Apa.”

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And she didn’t stop. She went on to win the 1st Women National Boxing Championship in 2001. Between 2002 and 2010, she won the gold medal in the Women’s World Amateur Boxing five times. The year 2012 proved to be the year of reckoning for Mary Kom. It was the year of the Olympics and like every athlete, she dreamt of an Olympic medal.

The Olympic medal

Kom lost to Nicola Adams in the semi-final of the 2012 Olympics

She wanted to win gold but had to settle for the bronze and apologised after her semi-final loss: “I am sorry I could not win gold,” said Kom after the loss. She felt that she owed the nation more than a bronze. This statement does show that she believes in nothing but being the best.

She may not have got what she dreamt of, but a sneak peek at the history of Indian sports will tell you that she is one of 15 individual Olympic medalists that independent India has produced. And this in itself is a phenomenal achievement.

The dream is still there

Today, as Mary Kom turns 34, she has not given up hopes of an Olympic gold medal. She is still training hard and is preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the dream of an Olympic gold medal.

Along with her training and hard work, prayers of millions of Indians will always be there with her. This is what probably keeps her going when age is not on her side.

The Indian boxer is a strong believer in her own ability and a winner as she once let us know: “I was the David who took on the Goliaths in the boxing ring - and I won, most of the time.”

Her fans and well-wishers will hope that she wins for one final time at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and we get to hear the Indian national anthem during the medal distribution ceremony.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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