The pioneering Indian boxer’s bronze medal in the flyweight (51kg) class at the Olympic Games London 2012 was a watershed moment for women’s sport in her country. More than five years on, Mary Kom’s passion for boxing remains undimmed – as does her enthusiasm for seeing women in sport break the glass ceiling
It was very tough to grow up and to prove myself. Being a woman brought a lot of challenges from the beginning. Getting married brought even more challenges; in our society, a lot of negative things are said about married women who are independent-minded and pursue their own careers. So it’s doubly stressful. But luckily, I had the support of all of my family. That’s very important.
Slow yet steady progress
In my country, some of the states don’t have much equality between the genders. I’m lucky that I come from northeast India, where girls and boys are treated equally. We need gender equality in boxing, because initially women’s boxing was weak, but now I can say that it’s a lot stronger; we’ve come a long way since the Olympic Games London 2012. Although it remains difficult for us to achieve full gender equality, the youth of the next generation will feel much better about it. The opportunities for them will come.
The keys to success
To be a successful female athlete, you need determination, strength and most importantly, passion. The passion doesn’t come from your family or from your friendship circle – it comes from your heart. You have to focus and work really hard. It might be difficult for you, but don’t ever give up; keep fighting with passion and prove yourself. Then one day, you can become a champion.
Loving what you do
It’s difficult for female boxers, particularly for those from India, because we lack the infrastructure and the facilities. For example, I had to travel by bus for one day, and then by train for a further two days from my own state to another city just to compete. But if you really love your profession, nobody can stop you. I had chosen a career, and nobody was going to change my mind. When people would come up to me and say, ‘Boxing is not a women’s game, it’s a man’s game’, I wouldn’t listen to a word. It only motivated me to train harder and harder to prove myself. Anybody can do the same and fight.
Managing marriage and motherhood
When I got married, people kept saying, ‘How can you be married and have this job?’ But I didn’t want to stop my career when I got married. The way I saw it was that someone could now help me, rather than it being a case of me sacrificing everything. My husband could now help me out in my profession. As for becoming a mother, I don’t know how to express the feeling. I’ve loved boxing since childhood, and after having a baby and seeing my children grow up – I have twins who are 10 years old, and a son who is 4 – continuing to compete in boxing is a big challenge for me. But I don’t plan to give up right now; I still have the desire and the passion to fight.
So many girls are inspired by my story. Mothers are also inspired by how I took on challenges and became a champion. It’s important for us women to challenge ourselves, to prove ourselves and to achieve. Becoming an Olympic medallist helped raise the profile of women’s boxing in all parts of my country. For 10 years, nobody knew who I was; wherever I went or travelled, people didn’t recognise me. But after London 2012, I could barely walk outside! People were desperate to take a picture with me or to get my autograph. It was difficult to handle all of the people! That was the main difference in my life after winning my Olympic medal. It shows how individual success can help women’s boxing and women’s sport in general.