The trio of Pakistani pugilists Khoushleem Bano, Rukhsana Parveen and Sofia Javed will etch their names in history on Saturday when they step into the ring for the first time in an international event at the 12th South Asian Games.
But who inspired them to pursue a career in such a manly sport? The five-time world champion and Indian boxing icon, Mary Kom.
“We have been watching Mary and it (movie) has really influenced us,” said the trio, donning their tracksuits with the Pakistani flag embroidered on it.
However, the young boxers admitted that they faced a lot of naysayers.
“There are a lot of anti-groups who don’t accept us. Initially, even our family and friends were not happy with us. But now everyone is supporting, be it our government or the boxing federation,” said Khoushleem.
Interestingly, the trio had donned the boxing gloves in the early part of 2015 and were trained by coach Nauman Karim, who was himself a bronze medallist at the 2003 World Boxing Championship.
“We stepped into the boxing ring just eight months ago. I know it will be tough to fight with an experience boxer like Mary and others, but our coaches have trained us well to fight in the ring,” said Khoushleem.
But the 23-year-old, who hails from the scenic valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, is eagerly looking forward to meeting Mary in the boxing ring.
“I know it will be tough to fight with an experienced boxer like Mary. But I am sure I will learn a lot from her in the boxing ring,” added Khoushleem, who will be competing in the fly-weight (51kg) category.
Meanwhile, Rukhsana, who was member of the Pakistan World Cup Kabaddi team which won a bronze medal in Punjab in 2014, said: “After having learnt that Pakistan has no woman boxer, I took up the challenge to fight in the boxing ring.”
“The movie Mary has motivated me to take up this challenge. Insha Allah (If God’s willing) you never know we might go back home with a medal from here,” added the 60kg category pugilist from Multan.
Moreover, Sofia from Peshawar, who also made a reference to Mary, said: “I am very happy to be in India and to make our international debut here. We have been practicing for the last one year, four months in Islamabad and six months at Lahore, for this event.”
The trio hopes that the sport which was only taken up males in Pakistan will now attract more females.
And their amibition was rightly supported by their inspiration Mary who told them to “keep fighting and never give up halfway”. She added: “They need more motivation. If they need my help they can always come to my (boxing) academy (at Manipur).”
The article originally appeared on NDTV.com