A second that modified me: I used to be unfit and flipping burgers after I determined to win the Olympics | Olympic Video games

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 employees 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 liked 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. Typically, I’d see folks I’d gone to high school with who had been on their technique 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 combat, backwards and forwards, however he battled on and obtained the victory. I believed: “I want a second like this, I want any such vitality in my life.” Then I believed: “I’m going to get to the following Olympics.”

If you happen to’d been at my college and questioned which one in every of us may find yourself being an athlete, I wouldn’t be within the lineup – I’d be within the canteen. The others could be enjoying 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 health club and I’d began to drop weight, however I solely went a few times every week, in a failing try to maintain match. No one would have mentioned I might have been an Olympian.

That afternoon, I informed the supervisor at work I used to be going to want to cut back my hours, after which I went residence and informed my mum my plan: that I used to be going to take boxing severely. I requested her if she would assist fund my life for some time. “Don’t fear,” I mentioned. “I’m going to be a champion in the future.” She was anxious. “Isn’t boxing harmful?” she mentioned. “And when you’re going to be a champion, aren’t you meant to begin whenever you’re a lot youthful?” We had seen different folks 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 large newbie event 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. Undertaking them was a special 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 identical time, I began my diploma on the College of East London, so I’d use the weights within the health club there, and I used to be working daily, regardless of the climate.

Lawrence Okolie
Lawrence Okolie has held the WBO cruiserweight title since 2021. {Photograph}: Andrew Couldridge/Motion Photos/Reuters

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 laborious work, my inside voice turned encouraging: why do 10 push-ups when you could possibly 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. If in case you have good folks round you who know your purpose, they push you in 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 laborious – 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 could 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 combat – I wasn’t recognised by the England Boxing authority, not to mention Workforce GB. I’d entered the English event, the ABA championships, however as a result of my hand was injured I knew I wouldn’t make it to the top. My first combat 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 just a few months later, I went for an evaluation with Workforce GB, and by the top of the 12 months I used to be combating internationally for the primary time. One way or the other, between then and the next spring, I managed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. In slightly below 4 years, I’d achieved my dream.

Going to Rio was wonderful. 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 precious 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 pleased 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 so much shortly, as a result of my mindset was by no means “I’m simply blissful to be right here”. I’m blissful and grateful, however I’m additionally considering: what’s subsequent?

In March, I retained my world title, however I don’t stay my life because the world champion. I perceive that in the future 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. Typically, I don’t recognise the individual 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 reduce corners, reasonably than pushed myself. Now, I have a look at the world very in a different way, and I positively imagine it’s potential to realize a dream, nonetheless huge.

Dare to Change Your Life by Lawrence Okolie is revealed by Ebury (£14.99). To assist the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply fees might apply.
Lawrence Okolie fights Chris Billam-Smith on Might 27 at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium, stay on Sky Sports activities. Tickets out there from BOXXER.com