No One More Magnificent: How Mary Kom Scripted Her Own Destiny
(This story was first published on 25 November 2018 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Mary Kom’s birthday)
It was the perfect birthday gift that anyone could have asked for. Mary Kom turned 36 a day before she attacked the sixth world title (her unofficial birthday). And on the day of reckoning, she not only got a gift for herself but also gave millions of her fans a chance to celebrate and bask in the glory.
You look for a proper adjective for her and find none anymore. Everything that can describe a champion has been said about her. A humble beginning, gender bias, lack of facilities while growing, a sport that did not attract much public attention, motherhood and countless other challenges – she faced it all. But Mary overcame all this to emerge as a champion par excellence and rightly earned the sobriquet of the brand ambassador of boxing. Perhaps a female version of Muhammad Ali!
Initially some people did not pay much attention to her exploits. They thought women’s boxing was a pushover sport. Some said there wasn’t much competition in it. Only if they had realised that even shadow boxing for hours can take a heavy toll on the body, leave aside fighting an equally tough opponent in the ring.
No Shortcut to Mary Kom’s Success
All the titles, fame, money and status have not come to Mary via any shortcut. She had to struggle for it all. In some ways much more than any other champion in boxing or any other discipline would have. It would not be wrong to say that she has fought more challenges outside than inside the boxing ring.
During her childhood Mary's family had to struggle even for the essentials let alone the luxuries. Her farmer father Mangte Tonpa Kom and mother Akham were simple village folk with bear minimum means for the family. Now that Mary is a celebrated champion it can be said this came a blessing in disguise. Cutting woods in the forest for the fire in the kitchen helped Mary developed strength. To add to the family food bowl she went angling for fish, which helped her developed concentration.
The jungle around her surroundings was a perfect place for cross-country running. But boys made fun of her because in her village girls did not indulge in sport. "But it was my faith in God that kept me going," she says. But she was still fooling around with no dream of excelling in any sport. However, it was fellow Manipuri champion boxer Dingko Singh’s Asian gold medal that changed her destiny. She got hooked to boxing and the sport became her passion. Soon after, she dropped out of Loktak Christian Mission School in Moiurang for 24x7 training in boxing. After that, only boxing was her way of life.
A devout Christian brought up in a Baptist household, Mary Kom has often owed her success to Jesus. "It is all because of Him," she always claims. But she has never left things merely to the Almighty. In fact, her conviction and belief in God has pushed her to work hard and up her physical endurance to achieve things that otherwise may have been hard to get.
What Makes Mary Kom Stand Out?
There are Indian champions and world beaters in other disciplines in India, including Sachin Tendulkar, Abhinav Bindra and Leander Paes among others. But what makes Mary stand out? Like Tendulkar, she did not have a father as a teacher or Achrekar as a coach at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, or like Bindra, world-class facilities at home or guide and peer like hockey Olympian Dr Vice Paes in Leander’s growing days.
Her way of life has made her humane. Off the ring the diminutive Mary is all fun. At a drop of a hat she can crack jokes and loves talking. After winning a bronze medal in the London Olympic Games in 2012 the local Manipuri community hosted a party for her in Hyde Park. She was at her best mimicking officials, colleagues and friends.
Before the Games in a pre-Olympic competition, Mary was at a sports good shop, looking for a waterproof jacket. She tried a quite a few of them rejecting all one by one. The salesman was a bit irritated. Finally Mary tried one in front of the mirror and began shadow boxing. It then dawned on the salesman that she was no ordinary buyer. Only if he had realised that one month down the line the same girl would be chasing an Olympic gold just a couple of miles from the shop!
It was Mary’s this humane side that showed in ample terms after winning the sixth world title in New Delhi. The tough and steely Mary couldn’t hold herself and cried like a child. Of course they were tears of joy. But then they reflected a total human in her.