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Future teacher, law student O’Brien guides novice boxers

Lorenzo Reyes | Friday, March 14, 2008

Imagine putting countless hours of arduous training in the gym, push-up after push-up, going for gut-wrenching and exhausting runs and working on a punching bag to improve strength and technique – all for the benefit of people in Bangladesh.

For the participating boxers in the 78th annual Bengal Bouts tournament, this is exactly the situation they find themselves in.

Senior captain Pat O’Brien wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The whole training process and the actual Bouts are extremely rewarding,” O’Brien said. “Knowing that your hard work benefits people you will never meet, but nevertheless in desperate need, helps you to gut through those fifty extra push-ups or the last minute of a round. In essence, win or lose, most boxers feel great about what they have accomplished on behalf of those in Bangladesh.”

The Fisher Hall resident hails from East Lansing, Mich., and is a double major in political science and Spanish. And for all the prospective women in the audience, he admits to being single and “more of a listener than a talker.”

Those who know O’Brien aren’t surprised when they see him walking around campus donning a flannel shirt and work boots. He admits a love for the attire, and at the same time reflects on his past and the path that shaped his work ethic and passion in life.

O’Brien recalls the numerous times when his father, Patrick, would bring him along and work on projects at the family’s rental property. It is here where the senior captain learned the ins and outs of plumbing, dry wall, framing and, most importantly, the value of hard work.

Doesn’t exactly sound like fun for a teenager. But for O’Brien, it was just a reminder of the sacrifices he would have to make in order to reach his goals, including the objective of graduating from Notre Dame. In O’Brien’s view, it is because of these values his parents instilled in him that he has accomplished all that he has in his four years as a student.

O’Brien became interested in Spanish and volunteerism upon his arrival at Notre Dame. This past summer, he worked in Tijuana, Mexico, at La casa del migrante, where he aided in the creation of a stable living environment for deported migrant workers.

Although O’Brien devoted a great deal of his time to the Mexican community, he never lost sight of his boxing aspirations and boxed every day this summer at a Mexican gym.

O’Brien attributes his introduction to boxing to his freshman year resident assistant in Fisher Hall.

“My freshman year R.A., Colin Kerrigan, a two-time champ, told me that it was a great experience and that I should give it a try,” he said. “It also helped that he was a lot larger than me and therefore very intimidating. I took his advice and the rest is history.”

Ever since then, O’Brien has been putting in long hours working towards his goals in the gym.

Although he admits that his technique may not be the best, O’Brien sees himself as an aggressive fighter, stressing his power punches above all. “Honestly, I am more of a brawler and in-your-face boxer,” he said. “I wish I could have better technique, but I am more of a power puncher.”

Building on the nature of his boxing style, he cites one of his main strengths as the ability to take a series of punishing blows and retain his energy and stamina.

“I can get punched in the face a lot and keep going,” O’Brien said with a laugh. “I have strong power and a decent jab. Finally, I try to always win the third round. If I am losing or winning the bout, the third round is always my round.”

O’Brien’s tenure as a senior captain has helped him develop as a fighter, taking an approach geared towards leading by example.

“As a captain, I am responsible for teaching technique, proper stance, the proper form of a jab, et cetera,” O’Brien said. “It is thus important to lead by example. If a novice sees a captain drop his hands or have a poor stance, it can send the wrong message. Thus, in practice I forced myself to be perfect when it came to demonstrating the jab or the parry, et cetera.”

Above all, O’Brien cherishes the friendships he has developed along the way within the Bengal Bouts program, and he plans on keeping these memories with him for years to come.

“What I will remember most about Bengal Bouts is the camaraderie and the friendships I have made,” he said. “I will remember the purity of the Bengal Bouts program. Honestly, I cannot think of a more worthwhile endeavor I have undertaken.”

Along with the acquaintances he has made throughout his years boxing, O’Brien cites the other captains as some of his main motivators in the ring, making this group of seniors something special in O’Brien’s eyes.

“We have been boxing together for four years and we all want to see each other do well,” he said. “Therefore, when I make a mistake during a sparring session or drop my hands, the first person to yell at me is Jesse Brawer. If I am gutting through my last set of gut busters, Hunter Land is encouraging me. Lawrence Sullivan is always teaching me new counters and new technique. Finally, Pat Ryan is the guy who constantly offers positive encouragement and really lifts up everyone around him. I am very lucky to have such wonderful motivators around me.”

Since his experience in the Bengal Bouts program has been invaluable, O’Brien knows that he can take away many lessons with him in his future career plans, as a teacher with the Alliance for Catholic Education and then as a lawyer.

“I think Bengal Bouts will have a unique impact on my future plans,” O’Brien said. “For example, if a high school student is out of line, I plan on using my skills of intimidation to put him in his place. I further plan on using push-ups or sit-ups as forms of corporal punishment in the classroom.

“However, in all seriousness, Bengal Bouts has taught me the value of resiliency. Gutting through the difficult will yield results. I hope that the persistence and determination I honed in the Bengal Bouts program will serve my future students well as well as those I later serve.”

Picture this scene from the near future:

It’s the first day of high school for many students and rumor has it that Mr. O’Brien, the new history teacher, used to be a boxer. Hoards of nervous and anxious students fill into his classroom and await his appearance. All of a sudden, a stocky man walks through the door with a no nonsense look in his eyes wearing, you guessed it, a flannel shirt and work boots.

Class is in session.