In July this year, Mary Kom clinched gold at the 23rd President’s cup in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia. It was a one-sided 51kg category in boxing, and she defeated Australian boxer April Frank.
Only a few avid followers of the sport would go looking for details of the match. In 2019, when the headlines mention her name and follow it up with the word victory, its mostly knowing nods or an ‘ahh, Mary Kom’ among the crowd.
Indians are less inquisitive of Mary Kom as a sports personality, per se, despite a biopic on her starring Priyanka Chopra was released in 2014. At 36, she is six-time world champion who has made her motherland proud despite a thousand odds against her.
Making of the Magnificent Mary
Born as Chungneijang Mary Kom Hmangte in Kangathei village in rural Manipur, Mary Kom was the eldest of three children.
Along with her studies, she’d help her parents, who were tenant farmers.
Although three square meals a day were hardly possible for the family struggling in poverty, Mary Kom was not ready to give up on her dreams. Although she was an active participant in sports at school, Mary failed matriculation and had to quit formal education.
But fate had better things in store for her.
The boxer has said that her love for sports and games was shadowed by her male friends back in the village, who’d belittle her. Even Mary’s father, who was a wrestler himself, did not want her to pursue boxing, as he was worried that she may not get good marriage proporals. All of this propelled her not to give up, early on. Fighting gender bias, Mary left her hometown at the age of 15, to learn boxing at the Sports Academy in Imphal.
In 1998, when boxer Dinko Singh returned to Manipur after winning the Asian Games that year, many youngsters including Mary were inspired to follow his path. At 15, Mary set out to join a sports academy, and won her first state championship in 2000.
The rest is history. Mary has since won gold five times at International Boxing Association’s World Championships, one bronze at 2012 Olympics, and five gold at Asian Championships. In 2008, she was given the title ‘Magnificent Mary’ by International Boxing Association.
Mary is also the recipient of many awards including the Padma Shri in 2006, Padma Bhushan in 2013, and Arjuna award in 2003. Her achievements have paved way for fresh perspectives towards women in sports, especially in the field of boxing.
One undisputed trait of an achiever is not to bask in glory but continue the work. Mary exemplifies this. Securing worldwide fame, Mary Kom is all too familiar with the struggle of juggling between multiple roles. Mother of three and a Member of Parliament since April 2016, Mary is also the National Observer for boxing, as appointed by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
An animal lover and avid supporter of PETA, Mary has written to the education ministers of India in every State and union territory, asking them to include PETA’s Compassionate Citizen humane education programme in their official school curriculum. (The programme aims to teach children to respect animals from an early age, making them kind and responsible citizens, and teaches them to refrain from acts of violence towards animals and human beings alike.)
Giving back to the sport
While admitting that it is difficult to do justice to her roles, Mary has ensured that it did not impact her professional course. Gracefully handling her roles, she took some time off after her marriage when her twin babies were born. Mary also took six months’ break when her third child was born, but afterwards continued to play at the rings as usual.
Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation is Mary’s gesture of gratitude to the society and the sport itself. The academy identifies boxers in the 12-18 age group, trains them, and also take care of all expenses including lodging, food, and tournaments.
In 2018, at her hometown, the state government of Manipur conferred her the title “Meethoi Leima” which means ‘extraordinary lady.’
Additionally, close to her current residence in Imphal, the road ahead of the National Games village has been renamed as MC Mary Kom road.
In an age when society loves to advise women on what’s best for them, it takes courage to chase the dreams that are so close to your heart. But Mary Kom believed in herself and moved forward, inspiring a generation of girls to fight for their ambitions.