For once, an entire nation held its collective breath for a win in a sport other than cricket. Mary Kom, the lone woman boxer from India took on Nicola Adams in the semi-finals of the inaugural event at the London Olympics a while ago but lost the bout. And when the nation let out its bated breath, it was not in disappointment. For though she had not brought home the gold, she had made sure of a medal on Sunday with the victory over her Tunisian opponent Maroua Rahali, in a lop-sided quarter final match. It was the birthday of her twins Rechungvar and Khupneivar that day. What better birthday gift than that radiant smile and a medal for the country?
Gritty Mary had almost missed her date with Olympics by losing in the Quarter Finals of the World Championships, which was the qualifier for the big Games earlier this year. But when she managed a spot finally — she is the only Indian woman boxer to qualify — she hasn’t let go of the opportunity to leave her mark at the Games.
It is not often that one gets to meet a superstar – and a sports superstar at that. I had the good fortune of meeting the Magnificent Mary last year when I interviewed her for my forthcoming children’s book by The National Book Trust of India (NBT). This post was part of that interview, which I had published when she had come back from China with a gold medal in the Asian Women’s Boxing Championship at Haikou. She had won the medal under the most trying circumstances a working mother could go through.
I am re-posting the updated interview. Do read it to get acquainted with the Sports Supermom!
She could easily pass off for a model, with her slim figure and beautiful dimpled smile. Young mothers can take a lesson or two from her on being a mother and a career woman. And what a career! For if you are not familiar with her face, you’d not believe me if I were to swear that she is a boxer. Tough, wiry and determined – that’s MC Mary Kom for you.
I met her in March last year, when she had come to Delhi to attend the launch of the Sports Achievers’ Special edition of the Limca Book of Records. She had taken a day off from the training camp at Patiala, where she was training for the Asian Championships. As she talked about her childhood — the poverty, the struggles, her convincing of her parents to let her take up boxing, and her single-minded pursuit of a career in sports thereafter — her slender form belied her strength of character. She had been a teenager when she won the state championships in Manipur and her parents got to know that their daughter was a boxer only when they saw her photographs in the paper!
On May 8, 2011, this wonderful woman won the Asian Women’s Boxing gold in the 48 Kg category at Haikou, China. Had I not got a mail from her secretary Jimmy about it, I would have missed the news item completely. Times of India carried a single column news item buried in the last but one page of the paper. There was no picture of the boxer either. The visual media of course had better things to cover and re-telecast ad nauseam. What made this victory special was that she had won the lone gold medal of the tournament and had done it under the most trying personal conditions.
Ironically today her photo is splashed across all national and local dailies and the media is screaming itself hoarse over her remarkable performance at the Olympics.
When I had called her before she left for Haikou, her husband K.Onler Kom told me that he was in Chandigarh where their little son, K. Khupneivar, was admitted to the PGI with a heart problem and an impending surgery. Mary didn’t want to go for the tournament, but her husband pointed out that he was there with their son and that she had a duty to the nation too. He also told her that she would be back in time for the surgery.
The decision to board the plane to Haikou must have been one of the toughest in the boxer’s life, but she did, promising her little son that she would bring back the gold. And she did!
Like any other working mother, she misses her children when she has to be away, which is quite often. ‘I keep thinking of them all the time, but feel reassured that my husband is with them,’ she says.
A lesser woman would have caved in to the tension and pressure but not Mary. The boxer in her took over the mother once she got into the ring and she defeated the then Asian champion Kim Myong Sim of North Korea 4-3 in the final bout of the 48-kg category, to win the gold. She literally punched her way to glory – for her son. The child had cheered his mother from his hospital bed, watching her on internet.
Mary had rushed to the hospital as soon as she landed in India to be with her son on the day of the surgery. The surgery was successful and Mary was one relieved and happy mother that day.
If this mother is not a super mom, who is?
It was not the first time that she had exhibited such mental fortitude. Way back in 2000, on her way to the selection camp for her first Asian Women’s Boxing Championships, her luggage and documents were stolen. She valiantly carried on, fighting the odds. Though she lost the final bout in that championship, she had proved her mettle and the fact that she is a fighter, not a quitter.
Besides winning five consecutive world titles, Mary Kom has four Asian Championship gold medals and 11 national titles to her credit. She is an Arjuna Award winner and has also won Padma Shri and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award. One of the protégés of the Olympic Gold Quest, a non-profit organization started by former badminton champion Prakash Padukone and Billiards champion Geet Sethi, Mary has proved herself by making it to the Games this year.
With such a long list of achievements to her name, Mary Kom is a superstar, but before the Olympic success, there were many who had not heard of her or recognized her face. Things will change dramatically now, of course, but why was this gorgeous sportswoman not snapped up by advertisers to endorse their products as others were? Is it the fault of the respective associations that such sports get less or no media coverage? Or is it the fault of the public that ignores all other sportspeople except those in the glamour sports of cricket and tennis?
‘Let’s hope the country will take note of women’s boxing after we win medals in the Olympics,’ she said hopefully and with a wide smile.
This young woman has traversed the long rocky terrain to world fame from the small tribal village of Kangathei, Moirang Lamkhai in Manipur. And after her Olympic success, hopefully, she will be a household name for years to come.
Being a sportswoman is a physical challenge and being a medal-winning sportswoman after becoming a mother is even more of one. And Mary has proved herself on both counts.
Here I should mention that her husband Onler Kom has been a pillar of strength to her. She certainly can’t travel so much leaving behind her boys, had he not sacrificed his own career as a footballer to take care of them and leave her free to concentrate on her sport. Behind every successful woman, there is a man, if you ask me. Unless a woman gets the psychological support in addition to the moral and physical one from her husband, she can’t give off her best. Mary does not miss any opportunity to acknowledge her husband’s contribution to her success. Today he is with her in London, the first time that both of them are away from the children. But they are smart enough to understand the importance of their mother to country, even at the tender age of five.
Mary is not only committed to her sport, but also is a committed human being. Recently during the economic blockade of her state, she was in the forefront of the relief work, donating food and clothes for the beleaguered populace of Manipur, along with other prominent sports persons from the region, like Bhaichung Bhutia.
Let’s salute a supermom and hope that she inspires the youth of the country to take to a career even in unconventional sports like boxing.