World Champion in Amateur Boxing
Mary Kom needs no introduction. As the only woman to become World Amateur Boxing champion for a record six times and having movies, stories and even roads dedicated to her, Mary Kom is first and foremost India’s pride.
Her journey is a girl’s dream come to life. Born to humble tenant farmer parents in Manipur, Mary was inspired to take up boxing when Dingko Singh, a fellow Manipuri, returned from the 1998 Bangkok Asian games with a gold medal.
Mary kept her boxing a secret from her father, himself an ex-wrestler, as he felt boxing would spoil her chances of marriage. He learnt of it only when her photo appeared in a newspaper after she’d won the state boxing championship in 2000 and eventually grew to support her.
After her marriage in 2005, Mary took a short hiatus from boxing. But proving every naysayer wrong, she returned to training after the birth of her first two sons. And therein began her steep ascent to the top. From winning a silver medal at the 2008 Asian Women’s Boxing Championship in India to winning her first gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games held in Incheon, South Korea, she stunned every person who had ever doubted whether married women and mothers could compete and win at the highest international levels in sports.
And then, in November 2017, she received an unprecedented fifth gold medal at the Asian Boxing Confederation (ASBC) women’s boxing championships held at Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. An year later in November 2018, she created history by becoming the first woman to win six World Championships, achieving this feat at the 10th AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships held in New Delhi, India.
Meanwhile, her Olympic journey continues. Always having fought in the 46 and 48 kg categories, Mary shifted to 51 kg to be able to participate for the first time that women’s boxing had featured as an Olympic sport in the 2012 summer Olympics in London. After winning her first two matches, she lost the semi-final. Yet, she stood third and garnered an Olympic bronze medal. She continues to pursue the sport and train for the next Olympics. Meanwhile, she was bestowed with the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award of the Republic of India, in 2020.
Multi-talented and multi-faceted, it didn’t take long for the journey of ‘Magnificent Mary’ to capture our collective imagination. Her autobiography ‘Unbreakable’, co-authored by Dina Serto, was published by Harper Collins in 2013. In 2014, actress Priyanka Chopra portrayed her in ‘Mary Kom’, a Hindi language biographical film about her life. ‘The Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’, a children’s book which features short stories about women models, includes an entry on Mary Kom. She also features in the 2016 documentary ‘With This Ring’, which follows the experiences of India’s women’s boxing team across the course of six years from 2006 – 2012.
In 2016, the President of India nominated her as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. In 2018, the Chief Minister of Manipur declared that the stretch of road leading to the National Games village in Imphal, would be named as MC Mary Kom Road.
In recent times, Mary has also used her fame to champion animal rights. As an activist and supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, she starred in an ad to call for an end to the use of elephants in circuses. She has also backed PETA India’s humane education campaign, Compassionate Citizen. She feels that one of the best ways to knock out cruelty to animals is to teach compassion to young people with lessons of respect and kindness in the classroom.
A super-achiever against all odds, Mary says her determination as well as family support is what made it all possible. She married her footballer husband Karung Onkholer (Onler) in 2005, and together they had three sons, twins born in 2007, and another son born in 2013.
Mary often shares inspiring messages on ‘how husbands could support their wives’ dreams’ and ‘how to raise responsible sons’. A complete woman, some would say. But not Mary, who felt her family was incomplete. And so, in a country shamed for its skewed girl child ratio, Mary and her husband adopted a girl named Merilyn in 2018, to complete their family and raise the bar, forever.