Laxmi Priya Sahoo could feel her sweaty palms beneath the gloves.
She had pictured being thrashed bloody a million times in her head. Now, with her opponent standing across the ring, it seemed inescapable. Even inevitable – more so because her opponent was a four-time world amateur boxing champion. Contrary to Laxmi’s fears, though, the bout against Mary Kom lasted its length, three entire rounds.
“After the bout I walked up to Mary and asked her why she didn’t knock me out in the first round itself,” Laxmi, 25, told ESPN of her maiden senior boxing nationals appearance. “She didn’t want me to think any less of myself, she replied. I was so moved.”
That turned out to be one of Laxmi’s final competitive bouts. She was to soon find a new love – rugby.
It has been a good career move. Last month, Laxmi was part of the senior national women’s rugby side that won silver at the Asian Women’s Sevens in Vientiane, Laos. On Tuesday, Laxmi, her team-mates and junior rugby players were honoured at a Women’s Day function in her native Orissa. Looking on were 5000-odd girl students neatly seated in rows; not so long ago she was one of them, now she was a role model.
Laxmi’s entry into sport is quite a story in itself, one that she narrates with animated passion and the occasional giggle.
As a child, Laxmi was expelled from two schools for the frequent brawls she would get into with fellow students. Her family then got her enrolled for boxing classes in Bhubaneshwar, thinking that the punches that would come her way would knock some sense into her. But she ended up faring reasonably well, winning medals both at the sub-junior and junior level.
At the stadium where she used to train, Laxmi often noticed a bunch of boys huddled together, heads down, arms interlocked, pushing against each other. It was a sight she had never seen before.
“It’s rugby. It’s what boys play. Girls aren’t cut out for it,” her boxing coach told her.