Ryan O’Connor remembers the day as if it was yesterday. A decade ago, the amateur boxer from Ottawa arrived in Gatineau, Que., on a Sunday afternoon, ready to fight. Among the 200 spectators were O’Connor’s parents, who were watching him fight for the first time. An experienced boxer who had racked up several wins, O’Connor’s confidence crumbled when he saw his opponent. “The guy looked like a killer,” he recalls. “He was shredded, tattooed, a lot stronger, a lot meaner. I was 100% intimidated.”
O’Connor went down on his opponent’s opening swing: “It’s the first punch of the fight, you’re on the floor, your mom and dad are there watching… it was kind of humiliating.” From that point, O’Connor says, “it was a war—we went the distance.” While O’Connor lost on a split decision, he still came away feeling like a champ. “I took this guy’s best punch right on my chin, and then I literally took the fight to him in his hometown, in front of his fans.”
For the president of Ottawa-based Find-A-Car Auto Sales & Brokering Inc., nothing beats the rush of being in the ring fighting as if his life depended on it. “It’s surreal,” says O’Connor. “You’re there in front of hundreds of people, and there’s a guy whose objective is to knock your head off. Even when you’ve lost, it’s still an amazing feeling. It’s like driving fast in a car—times 10.”
Fortunately, O’Connor has won more fights than he’s lost—in both the ring and in business. Since 1993, he has competed in 60 bouts, and captured the Ontario lightweight championship three times.
Ironically, the self-described car freak wasn’t interested in sports as a kid. He showed up at the Ottawa Beaver Boxing Club, at which he currently trains, only to do community service. But he fell in love with boxing. While his friends partied, 17-year-old O’Connor started training seriously. Six months after joining the club, O’Connor fought and won his first match—and kept on winning. That same year, the 132-pound lightweight clinched his first Ontario championship, a feat he would repeat in 1995 and 1999. Excited by his rapid progress, O’Connor set his sights on the 2000 Olympics, moving to Sudbury to train with Olympic coach Gordon Apolloni. Along the way, O’Connor found time to launch Find-A-Car, a used-car dealership—his backup plan, he says, in case boxing didn’t pan out. His prescience paid off when he battled his way to the Olympic trials, losing only to the boxer who eventually represented Canada. Devastated, O’Connor hung up his gloves for months and threw himself into work. By 2005, Find-A-Car, which operates five dealerships in southern Ontario, had annual sales of $53 million. In 2006, sales rose to $90 million.
Still, boxing remains O’Connor’s passion and escape. “It’s so easy to get caught up in the fast-paced life, but exercise is something you have to make time for,” he says. He credits boxing with teaching him to focus his energy and set goals. “I’ll obsess over winning a fight, and if I lose, I’m devastated—I have to be the best,” says O’Connor. “It’s the same in business. If someone is doing better than me, I want to know how they do it and then improve the way I do business.”
Today, O’Connor spars three to five times a week, and he competes in one or two matches a year. His record stands at 45 wins, 15 losses. To prepare his body for the pummelling he takes in the ring, O’Connor does a mix of jogging, wind sprints and—just like Rocky Balboa on the front steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art—scales the stands at Ottawa’s Frank Clair Stadium. He rounds out his regimen with weights and bag work. For a fight last summer, O’Connor trained twice a day (15 hours a week) for 10 weeks, whittling his body fat from 13% to 7%.
More important than physical conditioning, says O’Connor, is mental preparation. He admits that focusing can be difficult at times: “There’s so much going on in my life, with my business and everything. To help myself cope, I anticipate what’s going to happen. If you can prepare yourself for what’s coming, have a game plan, you’ll be ready for the situation when it hits you.”
Another part of being a successful boxer is knowing when to take a break. “Boxing is one of the most gruelling sports,” says O’Connor, who has broken his hands and ribs, and speculates that there is no cartilage left in his nose. “When a fight is over, you’re absolutely drained. I don’t do anything for a week or two—I just let my body recover.”
Five exercises to get you in boxing shape
by Jennifer Myers
1. Jump rope
Skipping is a great cardio exercise that increases endurance. Avoid boredom by switching between a double foot jump and alternating feet as you touch down. Do five sets of two minutes each.
2. Heavy-bag punching
Get close to the bag, bend your knees slightly and throw successive left/right punches and basic combinations like quick left jabs to the centre and top of the bag. Circle the bag, punching continuously. Do five two-minute rounds.
3. Speed ball
The speed ball acts as a rhythm bag and develops hand/eye co-ordination. Stand close to the ball, alternating punches using the sides of your hands or your knuckles. Do three two-minute sets.
4. Shadow boxing
Start in a boxer’s stance (feet hip-width apart) and practise moving in all directions: stepping forward, back and side to side. Incorporate some basic punches and combinations.
5. Medicine ball drop
Lie on your back with your arms extended, holding the ball over your midsection. Ensure your abs are completely contracted then, drop the ball. Do 15 reps, starting with a five-pound ball and work up to 10 or 12 pounds.