He first Indian woman pugilist to win an Olympic medal, the first boxer in the world to win eight medals at the World Championship, only the fourth sportsperson in the country to be given the Padma Vibhushan, besides numerous medals at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, among others...Mary Kom is hardly new to breaking records and making history in the sports arena. And her prowess doesn’t stop at the ring. The determined 37-year-old, mother-of-three, has inspired many by how she has shattered stereotypes, rewritten rules, and lived life on her own terms. Here, the brand ambassador of PUMA India, talks to Cosmo about her journey to global fame, life at home, and more.
Cosmo: Tell us about your childhood. What were you like as a young girl?
Mary Kom: “I belong to a farmer’s family, and being the eldest child, I grew up with a lot of responsibilities. I don’t have too many memories of my childhood... All I remember is keeping my father company while he worked in the field during the day, and then playing with friends in the village playground in the evening. I was a helpful daughter, a protective sister, and an active, strong girl who was fearless and fun-loving.”
C: When it comes to boxing, how have things changed since you started out?
MK: “Things have changed drastically. Women’s boxing is now a recognised game at the Olympics—and that is huge! Also, it was once considered to be male-dominated, but now women’s boxing is among the most popular sports, and more people have started taking interest in it. When I had started out, I never thought it could be this way. Our vision was limited to just international competitions and job placements.
Another thing is that with the success stories of female athletes around the globe, Indian parents are a lot more willing to let their daughters pursue sports, professionally. Sports is not just a ‘game’ anymore, it is now one of the best career options. If you excel at it, you are awarded with fame, wealth, and appreciation. You could receive honours you had never thought possible. And most of all, it gives you a chance to serve your country and win accolades for it.”
C: Talking about male-dominance in the sport, have you ever experienced sexism?
MK: “When I started out, male and female athletes were treated differently, especially when it came to training facilities. But slowly, with the outstanding performances and achievements of women boxers in the country, things have certainly changed. We are now given the same recognition.”
C: What were some of the biggest obstacles that you had to overcome?
MK: “What people see or know about me is only the celebrated side of my life. But to reach this stage wasn’t easy for me. I didn’t just sweat, I had to shed tears. There were several instances when I wanted to give up everything, even my life. But accepting challenges and facing them is part of life, and it all becomes worth it when you overcome those obstacles with your determination.”
C: Any specific ordeals, professional or personal, that come to mind?
MK: “There are all kinds of problems, including circumstantial. In 2001, while I was on my way to a trial selection for the Asian Women’s Boxing Championship, my luggage was stolen. It had all my belongings, including my passport. And the championship was to be held in Thailand. I was so shaken up, I wanted to jump off the train and end everything! But my coaches and friends consoled me, and later, with some help, I managed to get a new passport, just before the competition.
Then, as a mother I have had to undergo C-section for all my deliveries. I have also had a surgery for stones in my gall bladder. Having numerous cuts on the body is not good for an athlete.
Even when my father-in-law was shot dead by unknown gunmen in 2006, I was shattered, and held myself responsible for his death... That maybe it was because people were jealous of me. It even made me consider giving up my career—I didn’t want to risk my family’s safety.”
C: You have so many feats to your name. Is there an achievement that is most special to you?
MK: “The 2012 Olympic bronze medal in London. It was my long-cherished dream to reach the Olympic podium, and winning a medal there was a moment of tremendous pride and joy.”
C: The lockdown must have affected your regimen. How are you staying fit and making sure your game is not affected?
MK: “These days, I am training at home with my personal coach. But even prior to that, I used to practise regularly, with the help of my physiotherapist and coaches, online (and offline, ensuring it was safe). And my association with PUMA India constantly reinforces my belief in self-discipline. I want to urge people to stick to their health-focused resolutions, and make 2021 their fittest year ever.”
C: When not boxing, what
are some hobbies you like to indulge in?
MK: “I enjoy listening to music, singing, and cooking.”
C: And do you end up watching any films?
MK: “Only sometimes, with my kids. Baby’s Day Out is their favourite.”
C: If given a chance to have dinner with any famous person, who would you want to meet?
MK: “Jackie Chan. He has been my favourite since I was a kid... I wanted to be like him, and even learnt martial arts because of him.”
C: You are a boxing champ, and people often see you as fierce and reserved. We’d like to know: what is Mary Kom like in real life? MK: “[Laughs] Mary Kom is a full-time mother and wife.
MK: "She is fun-loving, outspoken, and generous. And she is very straightforward.”
C: You are constantly in the spotlight. Do the conventional concepts of beauty and body ever bother you?
MK: “There will always be negative comments, and not everybody will like you. I am used to it, and don’t pay any heed to the remarks, unless it is something extreme.”
C: And what is your take on beauty?
MK: “For me, beauty really does lie in the eyes of the beholder. It is not just about the outward appearance and the way you look. It is also the reflection of your heart. When you’re happy, healthy, and free from any grudges, it shows...That is beauty.”
C: What are some changes you would like to see for women in Indian sports?
MK: “Not specifically for women, but for everyone in the country, I wish we could improve our training system further. We are doing well, but to win on international stages, we need to go the extra mile. We also need to groom more coaches for the future.