Lacombe resident and rising boxer William O’Keefe is undoubtedly making his name known.
At 22, he is determined to land a spot one day on the Canadian Olympic boxing team.
“At one time, I looked at boxing as just a fight - two people pushing each other and just trying to win - one of those ‘rock ‘em, sock ‘em’ type of deals,” he explained.
But after a two-year stint away from it he came to a different place.
“I didn’t know if I was going to come back to the sport. But something clicked one day while I was training - I knew that I really love this,” he said. “That was partly because I was taking it at my own pace.
“I’m doing what I love to do.”
“I’m also doing this in my own style - I get to create this piece of art that will continue on with me for the rest of my life. It helps me,” he said, adding he didn’t start boxing until he was about 16, although he recalls watching it as a kid with his grandpa and dad.
“There was one fighter that really captivated me - (the late) Arturo Gatti. He was one of these guys who would just go for it, but what really got me was his heart, and his will to never give up. He was an amazing Canadian fighter who was just legendary.
“In every one of his fights you really saw that drive and that push just to never give up. I thought (at the time) that’s who I want to be.”
Of course, there have been, and continue to be, highs and lows along the way.
O’Keefe describes boxing as a lonely sport.
“There are days when you are training, and you don’t have the friends around to push you. You have to push yourself, so it’s really only you and your mind and your body,” he explained.
“I haven’t gotten there yet, but I’m going to get to the point where I can push myself to the maximum. I’m going to keep doing that, and keep improving.”
There is such an intensity to each match, and it shows itself in different ways, he said.
First, there is all the commotion while you approach the ring.
Then, it’s like the world is closed off and it’s just you and your opponent.
“Then it’s like, okay, now I am focused. It’s a lonely feeling but somehow also motivating and kind of nerve-wracking. You also get the feeling that this is my zone. This is my spot, and this is my time now.
“Whatever happens, I’m going to keep going and consistency is going to be the thing that keeps me going.”
At just 22, he’s already landed an impressive collection of accolades.
“I lost my first fight around the age of 17, then I went on to win the next eight. Then I fought the national champion at the time in Milk River in 2018 and lost.”
He wasn’t discouraged, however.
Quite the opposite.
“I won a bunch more fights after that and kept on climbing.”
Over the years, he’s won Alberta Golden and Silver Glove titles, the Brampton Cup, and to top off, he landed the Alberta 2022 Boxer of the Year title earlier this year.
So what’s next?
Take on the nationals, then move to the international level and hopefully square off in the Olympics one day as well.
For O’Keefe, much of his success comes from his incredible sense of resiliency and unflinching positivity.
“There are some days when I’m really down on myself, but I still show up,” he said. “That’s the difference. I will always show up - no matter what. I like to think of myself as a champion who trains just a little more after every fight. Maybe one percent, maybe 10 percent - I don’t know. But at the end of the day, I know I’m doing better than I was.”
These days, he balances attending Red Deer Polytechnic where he’s in Justice Studies with regular training sessions in Lacombe, Red Deer, and Edmonton.
Meanwhile, local support on the home front has been tremendous.
Lacombe Ford gave him a 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid which has been amazing, he said. “They are really helping me. It’s more than I could have ever asked for. If they had just put me up on their page, I would have been so grateful for that,” he added with a chuckle.
He’s thankful also for support from his other sponsors including Deer Head Consulting, WellFirst, and VICON Drilling Services.
Ultimately, O’Keefe also wants to be an example to youth as well who are trying to find their own path. “Whatever you do, do it with 110 percent. Never settle - always be courageous.”
He recalls telling his mom one day that he wanted to be the kind of person who people look at and say, ‘That’s a guy who has great heart, and who never gave up’.
“I want kids to know no matter where they are from, and no matter what learning or physical disability they may have, there is always a chance to do something - there is always a chance to make a difference.
“That is my biggest goal.”