Cam O’Connell, 23, has had to face many obstacles in his young life, but because of his determination, his strength of character, and the support he has received from those closest to him, those obstacles have also presented him with opportunities to grow.
Now the Red Deer professional boxer feels it is his time to start giving back to his community.
“I have a list (of people who helped get me through the tough times),” explained O’Connell. “A very good counsellor at my school, my coaches, my father and mother, and (fellow boxer) Arash Usmanee. His positivity even when the worst things happened. He was a role model to me, not just a mentor.”
“The community has done so much for me! I felt that I should be giving back and I didn’t know how to do it. I’ve always coached kids and worked with them, but recently I got to do an anti-bullying speech.”
As a professional boxer O’Connell has a 3-0-1 record. As an amateur he had 136 bouts, and 101 wins. He was a 12-time Alberta provincial champion, four-time Western Canadian champion, two-time Canadian national champion, bronze medallist at the Junior Olympics in 2005, and Ringside world champion in 2007.
But life has not always been so successful for O’Connell. Middle school was an extremely difficult time in his life. It was a time when he was bullied, and he would get into trouble for fighting back.
“Middle School was tough,” said the boxer. “It was just when I started boxing and being bullied. I would fight back and I would get into a lot of scraps at school and then people heard I was a boxer and it would cause even more bullying and scraps at school.”
With the help of school staff, his coaches and his family, O’Connell was able to overcome that dark period in his life.
“By the time I hit Grade Eight, I understood boxing a little bit more and I knew what I was doing and I was confident in my abilities to box,” he said. “But I didn’t have to fight. I didn’t have to prove myself anymore to bullies. People still talked, there is always going to be people who talk, but when you know your abilities you don’t have to prove it.
“It gave me self-confidence to move on in life, don’t worry about the little things that people say, just keep going. That is what I try to tell the kids at the presentations. I had a lot of questions about how I overcame it (bullying) and whether boxing is the way. But I don’t think that boxing is the way. I think any sport, anything that you can do to get your mind off of the bullying and to gain confidence will help you to overcome bullying. That is the reason I kind of got into boxing, not to defend against bullies but to have self confidence to overcome bullies.”
O’Connell has twice had opportunities to talk at bullying workshops at the Red Deer Public Library. The audience included school groups, but also adults with mental disabilities, with stories about how they would get bullied by kids when they take public transportation.
O’Connell enjoyed giving his presentation at these workshops, but what he appreciated the most was working one-on-one with those in attendance.
“I have gotten a chance to tell my story a couple times now and the anti-bullying is working for me,” explained the boxer. “I like giving back, and it feels like I am helping these kids overcome big problems. The feeling is amazing. That one-on-one is where I felt I was making the difference. Anyone can give a speech, but talking to the kids one-on-one is what helped the kids.”
After O’Connell won his first Canadian title and gained some fame at a local level, he found that along with the accolades that a negative element became interested in who he was, and he entered another dark period in his life. But again for the boxer this was just another obstacle, something that he could learn from to become a more positive person.
“I got into a legal issues and still have charges pending,” said the boxer. “I was involved with the darker side of society, doing the wrong things, and the negativity got to me. I got into trouble and I realized there is a good way to live your life and a bad way. That is what I needed. I guess some people need that. They need a big situation to happen in their life to change the way they go about living their lives. This was a turning point for me. Now I can help other people get out of it.
“My team . . . Doug Bolianatz, Roman Rzepkowski, and Robert Carswell are focusing on the positive, that is where we are going. I always wanted to give back but I thought I needed a title to start giving back, but now I know I am at a level where I can give back, anyone can give back in that sense. With the anti-bullying it was another opportunity for me to give back.”
O’Connell has another opportunity to give back to his community when he fights for the first time as a professional in front of his home crowd Friday at the Sheraton Hotel. The undefeated boxer will be taking on Mexico’s Luis Arjona, 3-1-1, in the six-round main event.
“I am excited to fight at home,” said the lightweight boxer. “It shouldn’t affect how I box. Once I’m in the ring my concentration is so good now that I can fight anywhere. The ring is my home.”
If O’Connell wins this bout, he will be ranked in Canada, which will be a major step for him in accomplishing his goals.
“I want the Canadian title,” said O’Connell. “It is within our reach. I know I can beat some of the guys who are ranked, so it is just a matter of time before I get the opportunity to fight them. Then I would like to follow in the footsteps of Arash Usmanee and get ranked in the world and fight for a title and bring it home to Red Deer.”
The undercard will feature a number of amateur bouts, including Red Deer’s Brian Samuel fighting Devon Reti of Calgary for a provincial championship and an opportunity to represent Alberta at the national championships.
For ticket or table information for the Tuff Gloves event call (403) 877-4391. Doors open at 6 p.m.