Before the gold medal, boxer Meena Rani’s children – Shanvi, 7, and Atharv, 5, were bound to notice their mother’s swollen eye. But when the 32-year-old reached her home at Hisar’s Police Lines on Wednesday, she found herself lost in memories of her first senior National boxing title in 2008, which had brought her immense exhilaration.

Her sixth 60 kg title in the Fifth Elite Women National Boxing Championship with a split 3:2 verdict over Jaismine of Haryana, of Indian Railways had come after the eye injury in the quarters.

“All my senior national titles had come prior to my marriage and to return home with my sixth in the same category, which I dominated once, feels like a rebirth for me. My children are happy to see another medal going in the trophy cabinet, which they proudly show to their friends. That’s my biggest motivation,” shares Rani, while speaking with The Indian Express.

The swollen eye takes some shrugging. “Boxing mein agar maarte ho toh maar khate bhi ho (In boxing, if one punches then gets punched too). And like any mother, I don’t want my kids to see me getting hit,” she avers.

A native of Palval near Faridabad, the young Rani’s love for boxing began after national coach Anup Kumar spotted her at the school nationals, winning by RSC, and urging her to enroll at the SAI Centre at Hisar. Missing home back in 2006, Rani thought about quitting the sport. Two years later, as Vijender brought India its first Olympic medal, Rani would win first of her five national titles in 60 kg at Agra, continuing the streak till 2012.

Rani, who got married in 2011, would also reach the quarter-finals in the 64 kg at the world championships in China before losing to Mikhaela Mayer of USA. “It was a time when women’s boxing was not in Olympics and it was only post my marriage that three Olympic weights were finalised for 2012 Games. I missed the medal in 64 Kg in 2012 world championships narrowly and with the Federation too getting banned, I took a break from boxing,” remembers Rani.

In 2014, Rani would give birth to her daughter and it was not till 2016 that Rani made a return to boxing. Weighing 80 kg, she would train and win bronze at the next nationals in 75kg, losing to Kavita Goyat. A silver at the Seven Nations Cup in Serbia before a first round loss in World Championships in Kazakhstan, would be followed by birth of her son a year later – and another two-year break.

“When I got married, I did have thoughts of qualifying for London Olympics but then that’s life. Whatever happens in life happens for good. Post the birth of my daughter, I had gained a lot of weight. When I told my husband Manoj Kumar about making my return to boxing, he shifted to Hisar to take care of my daughter while I started training under coach Amit focusing on weight loss first. There were times, when I would take my daughter along or my husband would stay at home while I trained,” says Kumari.

Returning in 2019 with a silver in 69 kg, she would finish third behind Lovlina Borgohain and Lalita in the 69 kg trials for Tokyo Olympics qualifiers. “As women, we also understand our responsibilities but then I could not have made this comeback without the support of my husband and his parents. When I won the silver medal in 2019 nationals, Mary Kom didi came to meet me and said, “Arey, tum wapis aa gaya boxing main. Bahut acha hai,”. At 32 years of age, I know there is a pressure to prove myself constantly at this point of my career and there is no better inspiration for me than Mary didi. Whenever I feel low, I see her biopic or the recent Bollywood movie Panga, which almost resembles my comeback,” says Rani.

Rani will now be heading to the AIBA Women World Championship to be held in Turkey in December. Indian Railways boxing team’s head coach Sagar Mal Dhayal, who has seen Rani as a boxer since 2007 says her biggest strength has been her will power and a fighting attitude. “We had a 57-day training camp in Guwahati and she made sure that she did not skip her training even during her periods. The light-weight category needs strength and speed and she can even qualify for Paris 2024. Her right straight and left hook combination are as lethal as they were in 2008 and she still has many years of boxing left in her,” says Dhayal.

Rani embodies the message of persistence for other women. “If we can achieve this, then many more women can achieve the same and prove to the society that they need to support every single woman in achieving their dreams.”

Leading a simple life surrounded and loved by people, Rouble Nagi is a Mumbai based artist and social activist who strongly believes in changing the mindset of people with art and colors.

Nitin SharmaNitin Sharma is a Special Correspondent with The Indian Express, Chand… read more

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