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Boxing champ, life coach

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AT HOME, WITH WORK: Mary Kom trains budding boxers at her academy. The Manipur boxer is the inspiration for all North-East

From a nondescript village about 40 km south of Imphal to the medal podium at London Olympics, it's been a long journey for MC Mary Kom. Mary, belongs to Kom, a small tribe in Manipur that has a population of just 20, 000, but she is already an icon for million of Indians across the globe. After winning the bronze at the Olympics, she is already focusing on her priority: the Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation.

Formerly known as the MC Mary Kom Boxing Academy, the foundation was set up in a residential complex at Langol Games village in Imphal in 2006, providing poor children a platform to shine in the boxing ring.

At present, 37 boys and girls from different parts of Manipur are training free of cost at the academy. Of them, 27 are residential students. Mary spends about Rs 50, 000 a month in running the academy.

"My priority now is to restructure and streamline my boxing academy, " said the 29-year-old. With Manipur's Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh announcing a Rs 50-lakh award and two acres of land at Meitei Langol village for her, Mary's dreams of restructuring and streamlining her boxing academy are already on the road to realisation.

While the North Eastern Council (NEC) has announced Rs 40 lakh award, the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry has given her Rs 10 lakh. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi too has announced a Rs 20-lakh reward and has offered his government's help in setting up a boxing academy in Assam.

"If the Assam government provides the infrastructure for setting up a boxing academy there, we would accept and convert it as a branch of my existing academy, " says Mary. "I'm thankful to all who encouraged and prayed for me before and after my Olympics bouts, " she said.

Since her boxing academy does not have a boxing ring, operating as it does from her house, her students practise on local grounds. In the 12 years that it has been around, the academy has made its mark in boxing, giving the country talented boxers. At least three of its students have won medals in various national championships. Others have bagged medals in Manipur state championship and two of them have won silver and bronze at the North East Games, 2012. Six of the academy's boxers qualified for the selection test and were referred to the Sports Authority of India (SAI)'s Special Area Games (SAG) Centre at Imphal last year.

The foundation, says Mary's husband Onler Kom, will continue to give priority to young talents from poor families in the state. Additional staff and coaches would be appointed once the Foundation was restructured, he added.

Mary's mentor and guru L Ibomcha Singh, the SAI boxing coach who groomed her, has been made advisor of the boxing academy. It was Ibomcha who first noticed Mary and brought her to the boxing ring in 2000.

Said Jimmy Leivon, secretary of the Foundation, "Like Mary, there are many young people with talent in the interiors of Manipur but there is no one to guide them. Mary started the boxing academy to help them shape their future. "

A five-time World Boxing champion and the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the six world championships, Mary became the first Indian woman boxer to have won a medal at the London Olympics.

As women boxing was introduced in this Olympics for the first time, her 48-kg category was not included;and she was compelled to compete in the higher flyweight (51kg) category.

Her journey to the Olympics was not easy. The eldest of four siblings, Mary's parents Tonpa Kom and M Akham Kom were farmers. An athlete, Mary switched to boxing after she was inspired by fellow Manipuri Dingko Singh, who won India's first boxing Gold at the 1998 Asian Games at Bangkok.

Initially her parents were not very happy with her choice of sport - her father discovered she had won the first Manipur women's boxing championship in 2000 when he came across her photograph in a newspaper.
Many more victories were to follow.

After winning the national championship in 2000, she entered the international arena at the age of 18, participating at the first AIBA Women's World Boxing Championship in the US. She won a silver and then went on a gold winning spree, getting the top spot in the world championship in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

In between, Mary married her childhood love K Onler Kom in March 2005 and took a two-year break from boxing when she became mother to twins Rechungvar and Khupneivar.

Proving critics who said marriage would end her dream run wrong, Mary came out of retirement and became world champion again in 2008 and 2010 in AIBA Women's World Boxing Championship. And if they were any doubting critics left, she proved them wrong yet again with her bronze medal at the London Olympics.

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