They say boxing is not for the faint-hearted. Mary Kom fits the bill perfectly. Had she not been brave she would not have become a boxer in the first place. Had she not been fearless she would not have won five World Championships and dominated the women’s boxing for a decade. Had she been lily-livered, she would not have won a bronze medal in Olympics.
If we say she has been through a lot in her life, it will be an understatement. It has been a tumultuous journey for her, a journey which only a true boxer can undertake and accomplish. What made her success more significant is the fact that she achieved everything despite the ‘despites’. Nothing came easy for her.
It’s said that one should dream big. But, how big? You need to be aware of something to dream of in order to achieve that. Sitting in a Manipur village you just dream of a normal life, let alone becoming a World champion in boxing, let alone winning an Olympic medal.
Like most of the great achievers in sports, Mary Kom will be remembered for taking a journey which nobody ever dreamt of. Thousands of men have conquered the Everest. But people know the journey of certain Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. It’s always easy to follow the footsteps of others but it’s far difficult to be the first to make the trail.
She is the first boxer who made women’s boxing popular in India. She is the first woman boxer in India who dominated the international boxing arena. She is the first boxer to win five boxing World Championship titles. She is the only one to have won an individual Olympics medal from the North-east, the region which lags behind the other Indian states in almost all aspects.
The greatest sporting achievements are those which have been achieved against all odds. The making of Mary Kom is one of the amazing success stories to follow. Nobody supported her in her initial days. Not even her parents. She had to hide from her father that she was practising boxing until he watched a photograph of Mary winning a medal. Since then it was a successful journey for the diminutive boxer. Obstacles were there but she did not care.
She won the first Women National Boxing Championship in 2001. In the same year, she came second in Women's World Amateur Boxing Championships in the 48 kg category. She won her first World Championship next year. She repeated the feat in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
Everything was going well until Mary decided to tie the nuptial knot. She took a break from the game when she gave birth to twins. People wrote her off. Even her father persuaded her to quit sports and concentrate on her young family. The rebel Mary, who took to boxing inspired by Dinko Singh, did not listen. Two years later she came back into the ring only to be beaten by an unknown boxer in the national championship. Her sporting obituary had been written.
Falling in a hole is not a story but how you come out of it is. Her story is one of the most interesting comeback stories, too. Being a true champion, Mary Kom did not lose heart. She started training like a madman (a madwoman in this case). She needed to prove to the world that she was not finished despite being mother of two.
She made a spectacular comeback by winning the World Championship in 2008. She again won the title in 2010 for the fifth time. The traits of any champion are domination and consistency. She has been dominating the women’s boxing for nearly 10 years, an achievement which can be compared with only two other Indians - Sachin Tendulkar and Viswanathan Anand.
This writer has had the privilege of first interviewing her in 2009. Women’s boxing was set to make its debut in 2012 (International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board (EB) had approved the inclusion of women’s boxing for the Games in London in 2009). One thing that stood out from the interview was that she had nothing other than an Olympics medal in her mind. I had the opportunity of talking to her again before she left for the London Olympics. It was again evident from the conversation how she took the event seriously and how she was keen to win a medal.
Like the journey throughout her life, there was an obstacle in her mission. She had to change her category from 48 to 51 kg. Ask people who know the game properly, you will find out that it’s not an easy thing to do because she needs to fight against much taller and bigger opponents inside the ring which mitigates her chance of winning by fifty percent.
She may be shy, but she is not a woman who shies away from the challenges. And challenges she took. She practiced against men boxers with taller and stronger physiques, learnt how to beat the stronger and taller opponents, and finally, won an Olympics medal. Really, there is no place for faint hearted in boxing!