Mary Kom : A Boxing Legend

Mangte Chungneijang, popularly known as M.C. Mary Kom, is a 27-year old lady from Manipur. Not many of us know her, but those who do, respect her for her determination and strength. Female boxing is not a very lucrative sports option in India, but she is someone who fought against all odds and won the women’s World Boxing Championship, FOUR years in succession. When she started off, she had no support, no sponsors and no job. But will power and sheer grit helped her embark on a journey like no other, making her the only Indian sports personality to win a world title, AIBA World Championship (Women PIN Weight 46 kg category) four times: 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008.

She was honoured with the ‘Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna’, India’s highest sporting honour in 2009; the ‘Padmashree Award’ in 2006 and the ‘Arjuna Award’ in 2003 for her success and contribution to women’s boxing. Her legendary performance is one of the reasons why women’s boxing was included in 2012 London Olympics. Until now, women’s boxing has featured only once, in 1904, that too as an exhibition event in Olympics.

This exceptionally talented and strong woman was born on 1st March 1983 at Samulamlan Village, P.O. Moirang, Manipur. Brought up in a poor family, becoming a world renowned boxer was an impossible and far-fetched dream for Mary Kom. Her parents, Mr. Mangte Tonpa Kom and Mrs Mangte Akham Kom, worked in the fields to sustain a family of six. Mary, being the eldest among her siblings, helped them with everything while attending school. She had a keen interest in sports since her childhood and had dreamt of making a name for herself in athletics. But destiny had other plans. When she moved to Imphal with her parents, she was exposed to women’s boxing with Dingko Singh’s success on the international scene, and the demonstration of women boxers at the fifth National Games held in Manipur.

In 1999, she started formal training for athletics from Sports Authority of India (SAI) and also for boxing under coach Ibomacha (SAI). She soon realized that her real interest and talent lied in boxing and she started playing the state level under Youth and Affairs of State (YAS), guided by coaches Narajeet and Kishan. She was taught all the minute details and techniques of boxing and she picked them up quickly. But she faced objections from her father when she started training, as boxing is not a women-oriented sport. He thought that his daughter won’t be able to get married, due to the wounds and bruises she incurs inside the ring. So she hid her interest from her parents initially, but winning a state championship in 2000 exposed her to media and her parents came to know about it. After winning the state level boxing championship and the East India women’s boxing championship (2000), she got an opportunity to participate in the Asian Women Boxing Championship at Thailand, which she unfortunately lost in the final round. Nonetheless, it introduced her on the international scene. Subsequently, she won all the Indian National Championships from 2000 to 2005. But, she faced a lot of hurdles on her journey to success. For instance, due to some differences between SAI and YAS, she had to pay for all her travel and equipment on her own.

On her way to the selection camp for her first Asian Women’s Boxing Championships, her luggage and documents were stolen. Her father asked her to come back. But she remained strong and optimistic, and fought to reach where she is now. She had started in an effort to help her family financially but soon became the most phenomenal sports hero in India.

Like a true patriot, when she won her first International Gold in 2002, she broke into tears on hearing the Indian National Anthem. She got the post of Sub-inspector of police (Manipur) in 2005 and married K. Onler Kom on 12th March 2005. She gave birth to twin sons on 5th August, 2007. In 2008, she made a comeback and won the AIBA championship for the fourth time, with her husband’s and father-in-law’s support. The same year she was promoted to Inspector of Police. But after the 2008 victory, it seemed that domesticity will end her career. However, she has proved everyone wrong again with her performance in the recently concluded Asian Championship. She made a second comeback last month by winning the Asian title for the third time. Indian boxers finished fourth overall, behind Kazakhstan, Korea and China with two gold, a silver and a bronze medal. Though she was busy taking care of her children in the last two years, constant and continuous practice made it easy for her to clench the gold, that too by defeating the best in the world. Unfortunately, she couldn’t celebrate her victory as her son fell ill while she was competing at Astana, Kazakhstan and had to rush to the hospital immediately after the event. Hailed as ‘Magnificent Mary’ by the International Boxing Association (AIBA), balancing motherhood and boxing is indeed tough for Mary Kom. Her upcoming events include the AIBA Women’s World Championship (Sept 2010) and the Asian Games (Nov 2010). This year she has been promoted to the post of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP). The Sports management firm, IOS Private Limited and the Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) is helping Mary Kom with her training at present.

A successful pugilist, she even manages to socialize and meet and help people. Her rags-to-riches journey, which seems nothing less than a fairy tale, wouldn’t have been possible without her perseverance, strong will-power, her husband’s support and her belief in God. “I believe that I have complimented my inherent will power; talent and my love for boxing with extreme hard work to forge my success. Without Onler, I don’t think I could have managed my career and raised my children at the same time, and I am immensely grateful for his unstinting effort”, says Mary Kom. Winning a gold in Olympics is her main dream. The most popular Indian boxer laments the lack of support – financial, technical and moral – for female boxers in India. The Indian Boxing Federation (IBF) and the Government fail to support women’s boxing as much as they should. Hence after Olympics 2012, Mary Kom plans to devote all her time to the promotion of sports, and training young talent, especially women, through her academy “M.C. Mary Kom Boxing Academy” in Manipur.

She has indeed set high standards for all upcoming boxers and is an inspiration, not only for sportsmen but also for every individual, due to her determination and the unparalleled saga of success. Her journey from a village girl to an international sports star, winning tournaments inside and outside the country continuously, is indeed remarkable and inspiring. Her name will go down in the history books as one of the strongest Indian women, who fought the conventional system to follow her heart.

Mahima Taneja

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