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Dear Cheeky, meet Mary Kom.
The daughter of agricultural workers, Kom isn’t even widely recognized within her own country of India and yet she’s poised to kick major ass in women’s boxing when the sport makes its Olympic debut in London next month.
True story: only one Indian has ever won an individual Olympic gold medal. He was a rifleshooter. So it would not only be really awesome, it would be historic if Mary Kom did.
Seeing as it involves sustaining repeated blows to the face, boxing is not, traditionally, a sport for women. Add to that the fact that, as with most sports, the equipment and proper training required to compete at the professional—much less Olympic—level is ruthlessly expensive. But Mary Kom and her family were undeterred by the stigma or the expense. To fund her training, money was borrowed and the family cow was sold.
The investment paid off. In international competition since 2001, she’s placed first in all but three competitions. She’s won five consecutive world championships—two after her twin sons were born. In a recent interview with The Economist, she said: “When I started, they say boxing is not for girls. After I get married, they say I cannot win after marriage. After I have baby, they say I cannot win after baby. So I want to prove, I want to show that I can make history for India.”
She’s fought in Kazakhstan, Hungary, Norway, Turkey and Vietnam, and yet because her tournaments are rarely televised, most of her countrymen have never seen her box.
At the age of 29, London is likely to be her only Olympic games. Her perspective is that of ‘do or die’: “My family is a big family. I’m looking after all of them. My father’s family, my sister also, cousin sister also. If we win gold medal, we are getting incentive from the state, the company side, sponsor side. So I tell myself, I can do, I can do, that’s it.”
Of Mary Kom, the reporter in The Economist wrote: “She enjoys doing her nails and visiting the beauty parlor, loves raising her children, and yes, she will fight with a skirt on. These aren’t contradictions. She is not closing worlds, she is expanding them.”
She is rewriting the way women engage with sports and with life. And that’s huge, whether she medals or not.