LONDON, Aug 5 (BBC): It is the crack of dawn in Manipur, north-east India, and Indian boxer Mary Kom has been raring to go for half an hour.
The 29-year-old, five time world champion boxer is on her daily run.
“I get up 5.30 in the morning, and then in the morning I do two hours, and then in the evening I am sparring,” she says.
Meeting Mary Kom
Kom has her eye on an Olympic medal. “Firstly for my state, Manipur, and for my country, for India,” she says.
Tucked away in the far north-east of the country, Manipur is geographically isolated form the rest of India, and the state has missed out on the economic boom that much of the country has recently enjoyed.
The capital Imphal, worn down and tatty, makes Kabul look sophisticated. Police are everywhere on the streets, but still there are almost daily killings and bomb blasts here, making it an unwelcome and unwise destination for tourists.
In fact, until last year, foreign visitors were banned.
And there is another problem. Living just 100km from the Burmese border, Manipurians don`t even look Indian.
At national competitions, Kom has been asked by officials why a Chinese woman would wear a sari.
“They are very surprised now, they never expect I`m Indian. I look like I`m Chinese or Thai or Japanese, very different,” she says.
She`s barely 5ft tall, and fights at women`s flyweight, but with every punch Kom is trying to put Manipur on the map and out of abject poverty.
Kom is such a star in her home region she has her own anthem
“In Manipur mostly the top player`s family background is very poor, I also come form a poor family so we have to do more hard work to get money and a better life.”
In her modest home on the edges of the state capital, Kom shows me the cabinet where she keeps her enormous collection of prizes and awards. She is hoping that if she can add an Olympic medal to her collection then Manipur will flicker on the radar of Delhi, a distant 2,400km away.
She`s already such a star locally she has her own anthem, called Mary Kom, Champion, Queen of the Ring.
Kom`s parents took some convincing becoming Queen of the Ring was an appropriate career path for their daughter.
Over a meal on the floor of their home, they reminisce over how they reluctantly agreed to let her train as a general athlete.
Kom, it turns out, had other ideas.
“I started athletics in 1999, throwing discus and shot put. I didn`t tell my family when I started boxing.”
But her secret was flushed out when just three months after she started boxing she won her first major competition.
Her father Tonpa Kom, himself an amateur wrestler, smelled a rat.
“We heard from someone there was a girl from the tribe who was boxing,” he explains. “So I started thinking, `Who could that be? Could it be my daughter?`
“Then I saw a photo of Mary in the newspaper. I sent my wife to talk to her because I didn`t know what to say. I thought, `She`ll ruin her looks, never marry or have kids now`. But then I remembered how fast and strong she was, even as a child, and I thought `Maybe God has given her this gift for boxing`.”
Kom is now passing on her fighting spirit. Her four-year-old twins are also partial to a spot of sparring – but are not so keen their mother can be away from home for weeks on end.
“I miss my kids and they miss me. It`s very difficult, but I have to do it for my country and fulfil my dreams coming to the 2012 London Olympics,” she says.
It is amazing to see the transformation when Kom steps into the ring. She stops being the gentle, mother-like figure and becomes a tiger.
“It`s a punishment game… only two boxers get in the ring. So when we get in the ring and we`re not angry, then you`re not a real boxer.”
Kom says she “can`t live” without boxing
Anyone who accuses Kom of being a woman in a man`s world will wish they had kept their mouth shut.
“For the past four or five years, there`s been so many negative things. The boys they are laughing. `Oh you are boxing, very funny`. But I always challenge when people are laughing – `I`ll show you one day`.
“After getting five times world champion, they are all quiet. And they respect me.
“Without boxing, I can`t live,” she says. “I love boxing.”
Mary Kom won her opening bout at London 2012, beating Poland`s Karolina Michalczuk, and will face Maroua Rahali of Tunisia on Monday.