Beating The Odds, Twice Over
Sports Illustrated India|December 2018

Mary Kom’s decision to launch her own boxing academy was as daunting as her road to becoming a six-time world champion.

Gandharv Kamala

Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom follows her religion diligently. And after achieving unprecedented success in women’s amateur boxing, the six-time world champion is keen to give back to the sport that gave her a chance to blossom against all odds. Her motto, “The righteous gives and does not hold back,” encouraged her to set up a boxing academy in her native city. For young Manipuri boxers, the Mary Kom SAI-Boxing Academy is like a godsend. The 35-year-old star unsurprisingly enjoys God-like status in her state.

An eight-minute drive along unmetalled roads from Imphal’s Bir Tikendrajit International Airport leads to the academy which has been set up under the Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation.

With clear skies and the Naga Hills in the background, the academy—spread across 3.3 acres—is set in a picture-perfect location.

“God has been kind to us. I never thought I would be able to give to the society, forget owning an academy. It is all thanks to Karong Onler Kom’s (Mary’s husband) willpower and Jimmy Leivon’s care that the boxing academy is up and running. Due to my tight schedule, owing to training and tournaments, I am not able to devote more time to it. But Onler and Jimmy have done wonders for the academy,” admits Mary.

The academy, as the name suggests, is only for boxing but is virtually an institute. It has a permanent ring—under a shed with lights—three National Institute of Sports (NIS)-qualified coaches, a total of 30 punching bags, wall pads, a full-fledged gymnasium with a trainer, a medical room with modern equipment to treat injuries, an in-house physiotherapist, a doctor, and two fully-functional residential facilities for the in-house trainees.

BUT THINGS WERE not always rosy for the London Olympics bronze medallist, particularly during her formative years which she spent in the humble surroundings of her adopted village in Kangathei. Mary’s autobiography Unbreakable delves deep into the conditions that shaped up the star boxer.

“In spite of our penury and deprivation, we did not lose faith in God. If anything, God was the force that kept us going, fighting and hoping for better times,” Mary says in the book.

Mary’s grandfather was the chief of Sagang village. Due to infighting among his five children, Mary Kom’s grandfather asked Mangte Tonpa Kom to fend for himself in 1971, offering some words of wisdom while parting. “Tonpa, cham mak jo roh, inreng kho in ada lhon jo che, hon kho in angak jo che.” (Tonpa, be anxious no more. Hard times have abandoned you. Good times lie in wait for you).

Mary Kom lives by these words even today. And it is probably because of those words that she and Onler did not give up on their dream of building an academy for local children even when they had no financial resources to support their ambition.

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