There’s a lot about M C Mary Kom that we know.
For instance, we know that she’s 29; we know that she’s a five-time World Champion; we know she’s lightning quick in the ring; we also know that she recently became the first Indian woman to qualify in boxing for the Olympic Games.
Of course, qualification didn’t come easy and she had to rely on Englishwoman Nicola Adams beating Russia’s Elena Savelyeva in the semifinals of the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championship to clear the path for her. But we’d say she deserved to that huge slice of luck; she deserved it not just because she is good but also because of all that she’s given up in pursuit of her Olympic dream.
Over the coming days or even weeks, she will be asked about the emotional upheaval she went through during the 36 hours between the time she lost to Adams in the quarterfinals and learnt about her qualification for the London Games. But frankly, she’s been through a lot more.
In the beginning, it was her father who would keep telling her to stop boxing because it would spoil her looks. A few world championship medals later, he wasn’t saying it anymore.
But the chatter about Mary Kom becoming a spent force began immediately after she decided to get married to K Onkholer. She was at her peak then and even her family members tried talking her into early retirement when she gave birth to twins back in 2007.
“Many people were telling me then to wait and not get married so soon. But for me getting married was essential for stability and care. It gave me a kind of security when I was traveling for tournaments and camps,” says Mary Kom to Firstpost, while explaining her decision.
“The pressure on me to quit increased after my pregnancy. Even my father told me to stop boxing since I have had a C-section,” she adds.
However, Mary Kom came back in 2008 to win her fourth successive world title but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The whispers grew louder in 2009 again, when 19-year-old rookie Pinky Jangra got the better of her in the quarterfinals of the Senior National Boxing Championship in Hyderabad. Mary Kom, they reckoned, was finished.
In an uncharacteristic outburst, Mary even accused the officials of trying to finish off her careers. Clearly, boxing isn’t for the faint-hearted. The battles need to be fought inside and outside the ring.
Though Mary Kom never showed any emotions thereafter, she was very aware of the challenges ahead. With the Olympic dream staring at her, the 29-year-old decided to go all out and prove all her doubters wrong.
She had to move from her 48 kg weight category to 51 kg for the Olympics and the semifinal loss in her first international appearance at the Asian Games in that weight category meant that she had to work a lot harder to achieve her goal.
Mary Kom isn’t really known for her expressiveness and doesn’t prefer anyone knowing what is going on in her mind. But the mention of her kids during all the media interactions over the last few years have been enough to defy the ever smiling face as the eye would get moist and she would make every effort to divert the questions back to her boxing exploits.
For the last few years, Mary Kom has spent around 300 days a year in national camps, miles away from her home in Imphal where her two kids – Rengpa and Nainai – stay with their father and his family members.
Though her husband K Onkholer keeps in touch through the phone on a daily basis he would rarely keep Mary Kom abreast with the day-to-day progress of their kids and there were times when even the information about their illness was kept hidden from her. Her family didn’t want to worry her and also didn’t want her training to be affected. The first priority was to give her time to practice.
Just last year, Rengpa was down with fever. So when Mary Kom’s husband told her about it, she asked her husband on phone to take even the second child, Nainai, for a check up. She still can’t explain why she insisted on that but it proved to be a life-saving call.
“Nainai was dignosed with a hole in his heart and was immediately operated upon. I was kept in the dark about the details till everything was fine,” she adds.
Mary Kom last went back to Imphal soon after winning the Asian title in May and it is unlikely that she will now get to spend any quality time with her kids before the London Olympic Games which begin on 27 July.
“It’s very difficult but I have to do it. I want to fulfill my dreams for myself and for my country. After that I can be with my kids,” said Mary.
With the first hurdle cleared, Mary has already set her sights on Olympic gold. To attain that goal, she has started training with male boxers at Patiala. What differentiates the 29-year-old from others is her dedication. If she wants something she will go and get it. She won’t rest until she’s achieved it. Everything else, even life, can wait.
Abhijeet Kulkarni worked as a sports journalist for over a decade and is currently associated with LAKSHYA, a non-governmental organisation which identifies and nurtures sports talent at the grass-root level.