On October 2, 1997 when a daughter was born to Tiken and Mamoni Borgohain after twin daughters Licha and Lima, their neighbours in the village Baro Mukhia in Assam began viewing the new parents a tad sympathetically. "Three daughters and no son," they tut-tutted. After all in many traditional families in India, sons were highly valued.
Twenty four years later the same village has its first concrete road, thanks to the youngest daughter of the Borgohain family – Lovlina.
After Lovlina Borgohain won the bronze medal for India in the welterweight (64-69kg) category in boxing at the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, the administration decided the best red carpet welcome for her would be to have a concrete road built in her village. This motorable road now leads to Baro Mukhia from Bharatpur town in Golaghat district.
In a very short span of time, Lovlina Borgohain has become the inspiration for every Indian woman today. With grit, determination and sheer hard work she has proved anything is possible. In fact, after she got consecutive bronze medals at the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships in 2018 and 2019, it was a given that Lovlina would corner glory in the Olympics ring.
"I’m truly overwhelmed by the love and support of the people of India after the win, but what I really looked forward to was going back home after 8 long years, meeting my parents and sisters, eating my mother’s signature dishes and catching up on sleep," she tells Friday in an exclusive interview.
The 24-year-old Arjuna Award winner is, however, not willing to rest on her laurels. She feels that she has not yet achieved her dream (of winning a gold medal at the Olympics) and she is determined to pull no punches at the Paris Olympics in 2024. As she starts preparing for the extravaganza, she shares with us her journey so far and her future plans.
Exceprts from the interview:
How has life changed for you after the Tokyo Olympics?
I am overjoyed by the love showered by everyone, especially from the people of Assam as well as the entire country. My phone has been ringing continuously with wishes and blessings. Life has changed for sure, but my aim to win gold continues to be unfulfilled and so my quest is incomplete still.
After the Olympics, currently I am with my family, but I have started light weight training and will soon pull up my sleeves and return to the camp where I will start working towards the Paris Olympics. Due to the pandemic, this time we have a shorter Olympic cycle. I want to work more on my strengths and focus on counter techniques to correct the lapses I made in Tokyo.
How was your life in Baro Mukhia before you became a star athlete?
Our village is a small and a quiet place, which still depends on tube wells and ponds for its water supply, and the nearest hospital can be found in the district headquarters, 45 km away.
I belong to a very humble family. My parents and my twin elder sisters are my support system and staying away from them because of my training was difficult. While growing up, I cannot say that we had a very comfortable lifestyle. My father runs a small-scale business, so there were times when my parents struggled to support us financially or provide two square meals. But they never compromised on giving us a good education. They always encouraged us to follow our dreams, no matter how difficult it was for them; they would always support us.
My parents were even pitied for not having sons. However, they were never bothered by such comments and instead my mother used to motivate us and told us to do something great to prove them wrong. She is the biggest inspiration to me and my sisters, which is why I am here today. My sisters also competed at the national level in kickboxing.
Do you feel being a woman you had to work harder to prove yourself?
To some extent, yes. Surely, every athlete has their fair share of struggles, but when it comes to letting women get into the space of sports professionally, our society is still hesitant to accept us. Irrespective of gender, athletes are passionate towards the sport they pursue, love the challenges and work hard to better their skills. But if you are a woman athlete you have to additionally face the perception that a woman can’t do many things.
I am hopeful, that mindset has started to change, as we continue to see more women achievers in sports like boxing, wrestling or weightlifting. Even I hope my journey will inspire young athletes, especially girls, who aim to grow big in the world of boxing and make our country proud.
How do you plan to get more girls interested in the sport?
I actually plan on visiting schools in Assam with my medal, I hope that inspires the youth here. Through my journey and the medal, I really hope to motivate more boys and girls and attract them towards the sport, especially at the grassroots level.
As a sportsperson, things get really tough sometimes, but my personal experience and the thought of owning a medal from such prestigious global multi-sports platform, will motivate them. We have to focus on schools and create an ecosystem for sports, right from infrastructure to other peripheral developments across subjects like physiotherapy, nutrition, strengthening and conditioning experts, doctors and professional support staff members.
Hopefully, someday I can start my own academy where I can support the boys and girls of my state and beyond. I hope to encourage young talent and provide them a platform from where they can climb the ladder of success.
Do you see a lot of talent emerging from NE and India as a whole, and how do you plan to encourage them?
Yes, I strongly feel that our country has a lot of potential, especially at the grassroots level. With boxing gaining popularity, I have seen many young players are interested to take up the sport.
I think a good way to encourage them would be to share my journey and experiences with them. I would tell them it has been difficult but how that made me stronger and I am sure that would motivate them. As an athlete we need to be strong, focused and determined and learn to accept defeat but not give up.
What has been the turning point in your career?
I would say my career took a complete turn when I got selected in the Indian squad for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in 2018. It was my first major tournament for which I was selected. There was no looking back after that. I must mention here Boxing Federation of India has helped us all the time by taking care of every requirement; starting from assigning foreign coaches to doctors, masseurs and other supporting staff and also ran the National Camp for the entire year.
Exposure trips and tournament participation was the key and we as boxers started getting a fair idea of the opponents and their styles, strengths and weaknesses. All these helped me to grow and become a thinking boxer, something very important to become a winner.
You came to Dubai for the Asian Boxing Championship where you won a bronze. Tell us about your Dubai experience.
Just before the Olympics 2020, it was a very important tournament for me as well as for the team. I was out of action for months being down with Covid 19 and later my recovery took a long time. I was glad that I was able to participate and take to the ring, which had not happened for a long time, let alone sparring. Going to Dubai and fighting against a boxer was a big motivation for all of us as we were confined to home for the longest period of time or quarantined at the National Camp.
For me personally, getting to fight a bout was a big bonus and gauging my fitness, form and strengthening myself was critical and this tournament in Dubai was all of that and much more. It helped all of us to get back our match confidence.
The last couple of years have been tough on all of us but the Boxing Federation of India and the cooperation by the Government of India and the officials at the Embassy along with officials in the UAE made this participation possible for the Indian pugilists. They had streamlined all arrangements while maintaining safety protocols to ensure the championship could be concluded successfully.
I would really like to go back with my family to Dubai and explore the beautiful place, the food and culture there.
What is the toughest part of being a boxer?
The toughest part is to not get hurt. In this sport, one wrong move can ruin your career. It is really important to be extra careful. For me, the other tough part was staying way from my family. I am very close to my parents and sisters and staying away from them for almost eight years was not easy.
Any tips for parents on the benefits of picking up a sport like this?
Believe in your child’s potential and let them take up sports and pursue it without the pressures and expectations. We have the talent and we don’t shy away from hard work.