She is a five-time world champion, mother of three and member of parliament, but Indian boxer Mary Kom believes that at 35 there is plenty more glory in the ring to come.
Dubbed “Magnificent Mary” for a glittering career that has already inspired a Bollywood biopic, veteran Kom last month defied critics who wrote her off by winning a record fifth Asian women’s championships title in Vietnam.
Driven on by the legacy of three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, she has now set her sights on the Commonwealth Games in April, and even the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 where she hopes to improve on the bronze medal she won in London.
“I am really inspired by Muhammad Ali, who was a legend across the world. He is my mentor and my only inspiration (is) his achievements,” she said.
“And he was such a great boxer — that is why I am still able to do this.”
But Kom has long rejected the doubts of those who have highlighted her age and questioned her ability to combine boxing with being a mother and an MP in India’s upper house.
“I am still fit. Some people talk about the X-factor and say ‘she cannot perform’. That is always the mindset.
“So I say there is no X-factor … I have more experience and I am getting better and better,” added Kom.
In her bid for gold, she has dropped back down to the 48kg category she fought in when she first grabbed headlines at the 2001 world championships.
“The Games will soon be here,” she said referring to the Commonwealth event in Australia’s Gold Coast. “I am trying my best to improve day-by-day.”
Kom said the Indian government and much-criticised Boxing Federation of India (BFI) were providing “good facilities” so she has no excuses for not being ready.
– Early struggle –
It is a far cry from recent years. Infighting in the Indian federation led to Kom failing to make the 2016 Rio Olympics. No Indian boxers took part in qualifying.
“It was very unfortunate because the reason was there was no federation, they were fighting each other to hold power, be president,” said Kom.
But businessman Ajay Singh’s election as BFI president last year has ended the turmoil.
Like her hero Ali, Kom had her own struggles growing up, with her rise from an impoverished family in the remote northeastern state of Manipur being made into a 2014 Bollywood movie starring Priyanka Chopra.
“In the beginning it was difficult to get my own gloves, it was difficult to even buy one glove and my family did not support me in the beginning,” Kom said.
“They were worried that if I got injured, who will take the responsibility?
“Everything moves with money only. If we want something to eat or to buy clothes or do anything, without money you can’t do anything,” she said with a laugh.
Blessed with three sons, Kom is now happy juggling roles as a mother, lawmaker and gym owner. But she insists that boxing remains her top priority.
“That is obviously very difficult. People might also say how can she maintain all these things? How can she keep performing? It is a question of will and mindset,” she said.
“Whether I am going to a parliament session or programme or my own personal programme, that is secondary. The first priority is training, the rest comes second and that is why I am still performing.”