Thursday 21 August 2014


Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. (1 Corinthians 9:24) - this being one of the inspirational quotes which has served as a source of strength through all the challenges in Mary Kom´s career. And what a career it has been so far? 


Born as Mangte Chungneijang on 24th November 1982, her birth name was derived from her grandmother ´Chungthem´- a traditional in their family to name the children after the elders. Chung (high), nei (wealthy) and jang (agile) - little did her family know that she would fullfil all of it in years to come. A landless farmer - Mangte Tonpa Kom (Mary s father) and his wife Anu led a life where every day counted. They led her simplest of lives in a place called ´Kangathei´ - the adopted village in which Mary Kom and her two younger siblings grew up.


With rudimentary education, Tonpa Kom and Anu believed their lack of education was one of the reasons for their situation. Determined their children would get better facilities, both toiled day after day to ensure the kids had good foundation. With costs inflating each year and with additional member in the family, the young Chungneijang started helping her parents early in the morning, taking care of her siblings while at school and finishing up the daily chores at night. There was no time to play unlike her peers - a fact which she was envy of. And whenever she did find little time, she played with her friends. Inspite of many hands doing work, there was just not enough money. They somehow found a way, each day through hard work. At home, after the school the only food available was the left over from the day's lunch and most times not even that. Mary often satisfied her hunger with the seasonal fruits that grew in the village. While the six days each week was strictly work - the family enjoyed a well-deserved break every Sunday. They mostly engaged themselves with the church visits which played an important role in the life of Mary - to overcome the state of penury, deprivation and not to lose faith. Her diminutive stature connected well with the Biblical story of David and Goliath - an inspiration which has been a constant in her life. 


Her childhood interests were playing marbles, hide and seek and watch action packed martial art films. She was a winner when it came to marbles and this competitive spirit was extended when she took part in every sports event at her school´s annual sports meet. Though she did not win any money - the gifts in the form of plates, cups, tiffin boxes and other household items gave delight to her family. Her fascination towards sports was spotted by the principal of her school and he suggested her parents to take her to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Imphal, the capital city of Manipur. The financial condition of the family did not allow such expenses to focus on her sports activities and besides Mary s father believed in getting her a good education. Time passed while Mary s fierce passion for sports only strengthened. Mangte Kom looked for ways in which Mary could enhance her sports potential while not disturbing her studies. Her aim was to excel in sports just enough to secure a good government job under sports quota and thereby end her family miseries. At the age of sixteen, she ventured out with her family´s permission to get a seat at SAI. She was unsure what was ahead and worried the extra load on her parents to earn a living in order to sponsor her. Was she being selfish, with her parents having to do all the work including the share she took care of? But then, she was a teenager with hopes and dreams of making it big in sports - at least progress in that path to secure a job for her and her family. 


Anu´s nephew lived in Imphal and he helped Mary to ease herself in a relatively bigger place than her village. Mary was trying her luck without any concrete confirmation from SAI. She was admitted to a government school and from there she would visit SAI twice a day to train with the coaches. This went on for two years before she was able to afford a tiny place to rent near the training centre. In the beginning, she tried her hand in every sport barring boxing. With time, she realised she needed an individual sport to focus and that´s when her attention went towards boxing. Women s boxing was at its nascent stages in India and Mary began to make enquires about boxing and finally landed at the SAI boxing training centre. Oja Ibomcha, the head coach was a strict disciplinarian and conducted two three hours training session (morning and evening) each day but for Sunday. Apart from technical skills, Mary focussed on getting fitter and did a lot of endurance training. Boxing is a sport which tests both your strength and stamina. If you have the stamina, you can go the distance and the vice versa of having great technical skills without stamina will hardly take you far. And so, after few hits and runs, Mary finally found a sport which she could connect to, dedicate and to live for.


Indians and politics cannot be separated. At each layer in every aspect of life one encounters politics of different magnitudes. And it need not involve money. There are mega battles of mind which can stall growth or accelerate depending on where you are and with whom. SAI at Imphal funded by the central Government had good technical coaches to train the boxers. However two other organisations namely: state run - Youth Affairs and Sports (YAS) boxing club and Manipur Amateur Boxing Association (MABA) controlled the boxing at the state level and this included the matters over selection. There was a tension between SAI and these two clubs which resulted in many students dropping out of SAI to further their boxing ambitions. Mary Kom too, threaded the safe path. She quit SAI in order to be eligible for inter-state tournaments and during the off-season she trained at SAI. She was juggling clubs to move forward and at one such club called Konjung-Hazari Youth Development Committee Club, Mary Kom first participated as a boxer. At times it was frustrating for Mary to get involved in matters not concerning sport - yet she carried on and established herself as a boxer in her weight category of 45-48 kg.


It was in 2001, she took part in a major tournament and this was at the 1st National Women´s Boxing Championships at Chennai. She won a gold. Very soon she made her first trip abroad to Bangkok for the inaugural Women´s Asian boxing championships. In spite of losing out before the medal stages, she was confident for the upcoming World championships to be held in USA. She won a silver and she had now arrived at the world stage. The silver medal brought her fame but it was still a long way to go. It was just the beginning. Reminds me of the line - When opportunity knocks your door, make sure you are ready to work twice as hard. 


It was in 2000 at New Delhi, Mary met Onler - a law student at that time. They belonged to the same place and there was instant connection. Mary by now was used to being away from family, missed a connection to her roots. She was after all a human and like all human beings, one needs a friend, a soul-mate or just a person whom you can open up and talk without thinking. Onler provided that support as a friend and with time they became more than just friends. Mary and her family feared marriage would stall her ambitions to grow in the sport - a fact which Onler was concerned too. Onler grew uneasy about the proposals which Mary´s parents repeatedly received for their daughter´s hand. Those feelings of Onler were genuine as he felt in the interests of Mary s boxing career and her personal life - no one understood better than he did. Few awkward moments gave time to introspect to both Onler and Mary. Mary did finally agree to his proposal and all she needed was her father´s approval. Mangte Kom was hesitant and repeatedly declined Onler and his family whenever they approached him with the matter of marriage. A face to face honest conversation with her father made Mangte realise where her daughter's happiness was. All he hoped was for Onler to support her career. By this time she had won gold medals at World championships, an Arjuna award and looked set for more. After months of hesitation and repeated declines, the Manipuri tradition of groom´s family boiling the pot of tea and the bride´s family drinking the same signalled the good times for Mary and Onler. The couple finally had their way and a lovely church wedding was held on 12th March 2005. 


All, who had suspicions about her career coming to an end post marriage had to start worrying about something else. Her wins had earned her a position in the state police force. If anything, she was now assured of constant source of income. In 2005 after the second gold medal at the world championships, she was given the role of a sub-inspector. In 2006, at the 4th International Women s Boxing championships in New Delhi, she won a gold - three times in a row. All this fame was shadowed by the death of her father-in-law who was killed by militants for no reason. Manipur since the beginning of the previous decade was controlled by various militant groups inspite of the presence of an active Government. A very upset Onler threatened to take an eye for an eye and looked set to embrace his dark side. The news of him being pregnant quietened him and he became the Onler, Mary was familiar with. On August 5th 2007, Mary and Onler were proud parents of twin boys. Due to the complications during delivery, she underwent a C-section which casted doubts about furthering her boxing career.


After a gap of two years and a year after her surgery, Mary Kom was ready for action on the boxing ring. She struggled initially to get to her fitness levels required to compete and had to fight for her spot even at the national selection camps. She won a silver medal at the Asian championships in 2008 and followed up with a fourth gold medal at the World championships later that year. She was promoted to the post of inspector. Besides success, she now had new found issues like being away from her kids and Onler - which constantly took her focus away from the ring. It was Onler´s constant assurance which kept Mary going. He sacrificed his career and ambitions just that Mary could keep going in the world of boxing. She did not let him down in that aspect and whenever she was home, she made sure of taking on the domestic responsibilities so that he could catch up on sleep and finish his work. In 2009, she received the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award from Government of India - the highest honour in sports along with Padma Shri - the fourth highest civilian award which she had received in 2006. These awards ensured she received individual sponsorship deals and also an agency to manage her sporting career. Yes, she had come a long way from the village pastures of Kangathei. With all such accolades, she still had a dream which was to be fulfilled - an Olympic gold medal. With the inclusion of Women´s boxing for the 2012 London Olympics, she felt there was still some distance to go. Having won her fifth world gold medal in 2010, all she wanted was that elusive Olympic gold - a feat which only one Indian had managed previously in the individual category.


Mary Kom had few hurdles in the months leading to the Olympics. First she had to increase her weight to ensure she could qualify for the 51 kg category. Asian Games 2010 was her first tryst with her new weight category and she came back with the bronze medal. She later underwent training under the supervision of English coach Charles Atkinson - who trained her from May 2011 up until the time of London Olympics 2012. Around this time, with the backing of Sports Ministry and ably aided by Olympic Gold Quest, she was provided with the facilities with which she could compete at the Olympics and get the gold medal. She was few months shy of turning 30 when she participated at the qualifiers for the Olympics. She lost the semi-final bout to the eventual winner Nicola Adams. Mary Kom qualified for the 51 kg category Olympics as a lucky loser of the semi-finals. Now, the stage was set for Mary Kom to realise her dream. Three rounds and three wins and Mary Kom was two wins away from the Gold Medal. She encountered a bigger and stronger Nicola Adams who had reduced her weight in order to be eligible for the 51-kg category. Her long reach prevented Mary to defend her punches and while Mary did all the attacking, Adams was defending enough to secure a victory. In fighter´s spirit - this was not a match, but as a strategy Adams used her stature perfectly. Mary Kom lost to Adams 6-11. Her dream of winning the gold medal was shattered; however she would not return empty-handed. She won a bronze medal. 


If anything, she has achieved more fame, financial rewards and accolades. She was awarded 75 lakhs from the state Government of Manipur, promoted to the rank of Superintendent of Police (Sports) and was allotted 3 acres of land to run the M.C. Mary Kom Boxing Academy. She was also awarded with Padma Bhushan - third highest civilian award in India and in May 2013 she gave birth to another baby boy. A Bollywood movie starring Priyanka Chopra will be released this September and will be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in a few days time. 


I believe personally when a company puts up a slogan such as Nothing is Impossible - it often becomes difficult to connect with. When associated with an athlete or a person, it is much easier to connect to. Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom (M C Mary Kom) is still busy preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Her dreams of winning the Olympic Gold has not faded in spite of her divided attention at home. Two years is a long time and if past is any indicator, I am pretty sure she would be the last person to give up. In the meantime, along with training she also trains kids for free at her academy and teaches self-defence courses for young women. 


I am inspired by the life of Mary Kom. More so touched by reading her own words she used to pen her autobiography which was released in December 2013. Her recent pregnancy provided her with ample time to look back at her struggles, her journey and her tryst with success - Unbreakable, chronicles the lives of her kith and kin, their sacrifices which contributed in becoming the Mary Kom - one of the most successful women boxers the world has witnessed in the recent times and she is not finished yet. 

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