Swearing by training

Mary Kom at the Incheon medal-ceremony.-PTI

From the ring to the silver screen, Mary’s story has been a compelling one. While her performances have boosted Indian sports in many ways, her life as a whole has also motivated millions to go for their dreams. By Y. B. Sarangi.

Champions are made of rare steel and M. C. Mary Kom belongs to such an extraordinary league of superstars who bank on their grit to achieve feats that may seem surreal to a common mortal.

Five World titles, an Olympic bronze medal and now an Asian Games gold medal may appear too staggering for Mary’s five-foot-two-inch lean frame. But it is her unsatiated appetite for big medals that has kept her going for the last decade and a half.

With a settled life and a top cop’s job in hand, a mother of three in her early 30s would dream of leading a ‘happy’ life.

However, Mary is different. She finds her happiness inside the boxing ring — toiling hard and exchanging bone-crunching punches. She finds solace in her hand being raised after each bout and rejoices when a medal is worn around her neck.

For her, winning is everything! Whether it means fighting scarcity to climb the ladder of success or taming opponents within the ropes and earning laurels for the country.

“There are several factors — her punch length, backbone strength, aggression and the most important of all, sheer will power — which make Mary a great boxer. In my life I have never seen another boxer of her kind,” observes long-time women’s National chief coach Anoop Kumar.

In her first appearance in the World championship in the USA in 2001, Mary landed a silver medal. In those times, many a woman boxer from the country would have been more than satisfied with this creditable performance. “But, Mary was not content and she gave even stronger performances to grab five consecutive golds (from 2002 to 2010),” remembers Anoop.

Success was only a by-product of Mary’s commitment to boxing as she earned fame and recognition only after winning her fifth World crown in 2010.

Being the first ever woman boxer from the country to win an Asian Games gold medal suits the unique profile of Mary, also the first Indian woman pugilist to stand on the Olympics podium. Her Asian Games moment at Incheon, Korea, however, has a special place in Mary’s heart. “After the birth of my third child (through cesarean) and the removal of my gall bladder, it was very tough to come back…We fight tough times in life and I am fighting because boxing is my passion,” says Mary.

Like a true champion, Mary, dubbed by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) as ‘Magnificent Mary Kom,’ hates to skip her training. One has to witness her rigorous training sessions in order to understand her key to success. “Even after achieving so much, she is very disciplined and sincere in her training,” says Sagarmal Dhayal, another coach at the National camp.

Despite her star status, Mary never crosses the line at the coaching camp. “I do not like to miss any training session and try to follow all the rules and regulations. I have utmost respect for all the coaches — whether they are my childhood coaches from Manipur or coaches at the National camp.”

While chasing her passion, Mother Mary has also been forced to pay the price of staying away from her kids. Only she knows how hard it is to strike a balance between the two inseparable parts of her life.

“My youngest son is too small to know about my achievements. But the twins are really happy and proud of their mum. They really miss me as I stay away from them for many months. Whenever I speak to them, they ask me ‘Mummy, when are you coming home?’ and I always tell them ‘Tomorrow.’

“I try to make them understand that I am doing all this for them, for their better future.”

But Mary knows her responsibility as a sporting icon and an inspiration for women in general. “Even if I belong to a poor family and do not have money, I should not think negatively. If I work hard, God will come to my help and no one can stop me. When I started boxing, I used to get clothes and shoes which were very cheap. Now I have achieved everything because of my hard work.”

With her personality now larger than life, Mary, now runs a boxing academy in Manipur, wanting to make an impact on other women sportspersons.

“It is one of my dreams to help athletes, especially women, become stronger. Generally men possess a strong heart, but women do not. They can learn from me. It is very hard (for a woman to continue as a sportsperson) after marriage and kids. But they should think ‘If Mary Kom can do this, why can’t we?’ That is the challenge for them.”

Mary, wholeheartedly supported by her husband Onler Kom, is happy that the bio-pic on her life has spread her story among the masses. “It is nice that my story is inspiring others. It is not easy to portray someone else’s character, but Priyanka (Chopra) has done a good job.”

Nothing can distract Mary from her ultimate goal though. “My dream of winning a gold medal was not fulfilled in the last Olympics. That is my motivation… And my preparation for the Rio Olympics has started with the 51 kg gold medal in the Asian Games.”

From the ring to the silver screen, Mary’s story has been a compelling one. While her performances have boosted Indian sports in many ways, her life as a whole has also motivated millions to go for their dreams. As she starts her ‘Mission Rio’ with a single-minded pursuit of an Olympics gold, Mary will surely be encouraged to find the whole nation backing her in Brazil two years from now.