Connor Chelsky bounces back to embrace mission
Andrew Robinson | Friday, February 27, 2015
Connor Chelsky’s first fight as a freshman lasted under a minute, but his devotion to Bengal Bouts has lasted into the deep rounds of his Notre Dame career. Over his four years, he has found ways to connect his personal mission to the mission of Bengal Bouts in every sense.
Chelsky, a senior captain and former resident of Alumni Hall, joined Bengal Bouts as a freshman for the same reason many others do: to fill the void of fitness and competition following the transition from high school to college.
“At first it was a way to stay in shape. You end high school sports and there’s that gap missing,” he said. “And I really got connected to what ‘the team’ is all about. The idea of ‘strong bodies fight’ and fighting for something bigger than myself fired me up and inspired me to stay with the program.”
In his preliminary-round fight as a freshman Chelsky failed to make it to the first bell, losing a quick fight to junior Charles Lee. He was never discouraged though, finding more meaning in the day-to-day training and club camaraderie than the tournament itself.
“I think loving the process, loving every day of practice is really important to me. I saw it as much more than a workout club,” he said. “It’s a really unique team, and that’s what kept me going.”
After bouncing back and unanimously winning his preliminary as a sophomore, the highlight of his involvement with Bengal Bouts that second year was outside the ring. In his sophomore summer, Chelsky spent eight weeks at the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh teaching an English class through Notre Dame’s ISSLP (International Summer Service Learning Program).
“It put faces and names to the mission [of Bengal Bouts]. When we say we’re raising money for schools, I can say ‘these are the kids receiving the education,’” Chelsky said. “You get a feel for how far money goes there. A $15 donation pays for room, board, teacher and a month’s tuition. When I go out to sell ads and tickets [to promote Bengal Bouts], it’s not just $15; it’s another’s education.
“It’s more than an eight-week program; it’s the rest of your time at Notre Dame and beyond. … I try to be that connection for those who don’t go to Bangladesh, an ambassador to tell that story.”
Chelsky said he has been able to bring his unique perspective back, and he continues to embody the Bengal Bouts mission through his role as a captain.
“As a captain, you have a lot more responsibilities in terms of trying to get a lot of people to sign up and fundraise,” he said. “You’re responsible for the quality of boxers and the end-of-year [fundraising] mark. You’re trying to train and be that role model, trying to inspire and motivate and connect them to the mission. That’s the reverse of previous years when I was on the learning side.”
Though Chelsky has no concrete plans after graduation, he hopes to channel his passion for social entrepreneurship towards community development in the South Bend area. He also said he hopes to stay involved in Bengal Bouts.
“This is something where for four months you put in 10 hours a week, probably more. There are all these guys you’re so close with,” he said. “We’re trying to build that link [between alumni and undergraduates] … because it’s such a large part of people’s Notre Dame experience.”
He said he also hopes to stay involved through fundraising efforts for an upstart Holy Cross college in Bangladesh, citing his admiration for the mission’s objective to provide education from elementary school to higher education to sustainable career development.
Chelsky’s passion for the boxing side of Bengal Bouts is equally apparent. Although he lost his quarterfinal fight, Chelsky – nicknamed “MJ” in honor of his late father – said he is really excited about watching the upcoming semifinals and finals.
“There are going to be some great fights; I think this is the highest quality level of boxing that we’ve had,” he said. “While there have been [fewer] people this year, I think that has allowed us to up the quality.”
“Being a part of that, putting on that final event, I think we’ll be blown away. The atmosphere in the finals [in Purcell Pavilion] is just electric.”