In the summer time of 2012, it felt as if everybody in London was watching the Olympics. It was the identical for us, on our lunch break within the McDonald’s workers room. I felt as if I used to be on the journey with these athletes – each punch that was thrown, each stride on the dash. I cherished watching Usain Bolt and the British boxers Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams.
I had been working at McDonald’s since I left sixth kind, within the department at Victoria station. Generally, I’d see individuals I’d gone to highschool with who had been on their strategy to college, or beginning their careers. I used to be taking a 12 months out and I didn’t actually have a plan for my life. It was beginning to really feel like I’d been left behind.
That afternoon, with the TV on, there have been three of us on our break and we had been watching Anthony Joshua within the super-heavyweight ultimate. It was an in depth battle, forwards and backwards, however he battled on and obtained the victory. I believed: “I would like a second like this, I would like the sort of power in my life.” Then I believed: “I’m going to get to the following Olympics.”
Should you’d been at my faculty and puzzled which certainly one of us would possibly find yourself being an athlete, I wouldn’t be within the lineup – I’d be within the canteen. The others could be taking part in soccer at lunchtime, however I’d be ready for seconds. By the point I used to be 19 and dealing at McDonald’s, I had joined a boxing fitness center and I’d began to drop weight, however I solely went a couple of times every week, in a failing try to hold match. No person would have stated I might have been an Olympian.
That afternoon, I informed the supervisor at work I used to be going to wish to cut back my hours, after which I went dwelling and informed my mum my plan: that I used to be going to take boxing significantly. I requested her if she would assist fund my life for some time. “Don’t fear,” I stated. “I’m going to be a champion sooner or later.” She was anxious. “Isn’t boxing harmful?” she stated. “And for those who’re going to be a champion, aren’t you meant to begin while you’re a lot youthful?” We had seen different individuals attempt to make it in soccer and never get there. I used to be almost 20, unfit and saying I used to be going to be a champion. It sounded ridiculous, however she supported me.
I checked out Joshua’s rise – he received the massive newbie match in London, then he was English champion, British champion, received silver on the World Championships and gold on the Olympics. I might set targets like that. Carrying out them was a unique factor, however I might see the trail.
I began coaching daily. I had a coach, Robert England, who noticed me hit the pads and informed me I had one thing. Across the similar time, I began my diploma on the College of East London, so I’d use the weights within the fitness center there, and I used to be working daily, irrespective of the climate.
I had been lazy earlier than – if I had been requested to do 10 push-ups, I’d solely attempt to do 5 – however now I had a spotlight. After I began to see the outcomes of my exhausting work, my inner voice grew to become encouraging: why do 10 push-ups when you may do 12? I began to grasp the extra I put in, the extra I used to be getting out.
My family and friends thought I used to be loopy, however they supported me and saved me accountable. In case you have good individuals round you who know your aim, they push you in the direction of it. After I wished to exit and have a drink, or a second piece of cake, it was: “Mate, don’t you’ve the Olympics to go to?” It was nonetheless exhausting – I’d be drained mentally from uni and have to coach. I’d say no to events I wished to say sure to. All I had was this dream, however no assure I’d get there.
There have been a number of instances I believed it might by no means occur. I had began to win fights and, in 2014, I sparred with Joshua, who gave me a number of confidence. Then, within the spring of 2015, I fractured my hand. The Rio Olympics had been the next 12 months and I nonetheless hadn’t had a global battle – I wasn’t recognised by the England Boxing authority, not to mention Crew GB. I’d entered the English match, the ABA championships, however as a result of my hand was injured I knew I wouldn’t make it to the top. My first battle was towards a man who’d obtained to the finals the 12 months earlier than. I received – and that was simply sufficient to get on the radar.
When my hand had healed a number of months later, I went for an evaluation with Crew GB, and by the top of the 12 months I used to be combating internationally for the primary time. Someway, between then and the next spring, I managed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. In just below 4 years, I’d achieved my dream.
Going to Rio was superb. I used to be with all these athletes I appeared as much as and I might say: “I’m an Olympian, too.” It additionally taught me a helpful lesson. After I was aiming for the Olympics, nothing might cease me, however I didn’t set the goal of profitable a medal with the identical intent. After I was eradicated, I used to be happy with myself for getting there, however I additionally thought: set a goal, however don’t let that be it. After I turned skilled quickly afterwards and began profitable titles, I racked up loads shortly, as a result of my mindset was by no means “I’m simply completely happy to be right here”. I’m completely happy and grateful, however I’m additionally pondering: what’s subsequent?
In March, I retained my world title, however I don’t stay my life because the world champion. I perceive that sooner or later somebody will likely be higher than me, or if I’ve to retire; another person will likely be world champion. Boxing doesn’t outline me, however that call I made on that lunch break modified my life. Generally, I don’t recognise the particular person I was. I keep in mind being scared, afraid to talk up or stand out. I accepted issues I’d by no means settle for now and I used to be somebody who lower corners, fairly than pushed myself. Now, I have a look at the world very otherwise, and I undoubtedly imagine it’s doable to realize a dream, nevertheless massive.
Dare to Change Your Life by Lawrence Okolie is printed by Ebury (£14.99). To help the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply fees could apply.
Lawrence Okolie fights Chris Billam-Smith on Could 27 at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium, stay on Sky Sports activities. Tickets out there from BOXXER.com