A second that modified me: I used to be unfit and flipping burgers once 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 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 liked watching Usain Bolt and the British boxers Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams.

I had been working at McDonald’s since I left sixth type, within the department at Victoria station. Typically, I’d see individuals I’d gone to high school with who have been on their method to college, or beginning their careers. I used to be taking a yr 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 have been watching Anthony Joshua within the super-heavyweight closing. It was a detailed struggle, backwards and forwards, however he battled on and received the victory. I assumed: “I would like a second like this, I would like such a power in my life.” Then I assumed: “I’m going to get to the following Olympics.”

In case you’d been at my college and puzzled which one among us would possibly find yourself being an athlete, I wouldn’t be within the lineup – I’d be within the canteen. The others can 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 few times every week, in a failing try and preserve match. No person would have stated I might have been an Olympian.

That afternoon, I instructed the supervisor at work I used to be going to wish to scale back my hours, after which I went dwelling and instructed my mum my plan: that I used to be going to take boxing critically. 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 in the future.” She was anxious. “Isn’t boxing harmful?” she stated. “And in the event you’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 gained the massive newbie event in London, then he was English champion, British champion, gained 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 day by day. I had a coach, Robert England, who noticed me hit the pads and instructed 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 fitness center there, and I used to be working day by day, irrespective of the climate.

Lawrence Okolie
Lawrence Okolie has held the WBO cruiserweight title since 2021. {Photograph}: Andrew Couldridge/Motion Photographs/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. Once I began to see the outcomes of my laborious work, my inside voice grew to become 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 stored me accountable. You probably have good individuals round you who know your aim, they push you in direction of it. Once I wished to exit and have a drink, or a second piece of cake, it was: “Mate, don’t you will have 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 lot of occasions I assumed it might by no means occur. I had began to win fights and, in 2014, I sparred with Joshua, who gave me a lot of confidence. Then, within the spring of 2015, I fractured my hand. The Rio Olympics have been the next yr and I nonetheless hadn’t had a global struggle – I wasn’t recognised by the England Boxing authority, not to mention Staff 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 struggle was towards a man who’d received to the finals the yr earlier than. I gained – 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 Staff GB, and by the top of the yr I used to be preventing internationally for the primary time. In some way, 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 wonderful. I used to be with all these athletes I regarded as much as and I might say: “I’m an Olympian, too.” It additionally taught me a helpful lesson. Once I was aiming for the Olympics, nothing might cease me, however I didn’t set the goal of successful a medal with the identical intent. Once 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. Once I turned skilled quickly afterwards and began successful titles, I racked up rather a lot 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 considering: what’s subsequent?

In March, I retained my world title, however I don’t dwell my life because the world champion. I perceive that in the future somebody shall be higher than me, or if I’ve to retire; another person shall 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 bear in mind being scared, afraid to talk up or stand out. I accepted issues I might by no means settle for now and I used to be somebody who minimize corners, slightly than pushed myself. Now, I have a look at the world very in another way, and I undoubtedly consider it’s potential to attain 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 expenses could apply