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South River teen overcomes challenges with ADHD, autism, finds strength in the boxing ring

16-year-old Troy O'Connor standing in front of the "Wall of Fame" inside the Brunswick Boxing Stars in North Brunswick. Diagnosed with ADHD and autism as a child, O'Connor overcame odds to compete and win on the national stage. Photos by Tyler Brown/Sentinel.

SOUTH RIVER – Sixteen-year-old Troy O’Connor was far away from his hometown – 1,400 miles away – when he stepped into the boxing ring in Wichita, Kans.

He was competing for his hometown of South River.

From July 9-16, hundreds of U.S. boxers traveled to Wichita for the 2022 USA Boxing National Junior Olympics. The competition featured an array of weight-classes and skill levels that ranged from collegiate athletes to pee-wee competitors.

O’Connor’s invitation to compete was a direct result of prior victories in both the Silver and Golden Gloves contests for juniors.

However, with three National Olympic appearances and several state/regional titles, O’Connor arrived in Wichita as a battle-tested and seasoned fighter.

“I prepare for these events, like any other: constant training every day from cardio to strength training and sparring as much as I can, as well as a diet consistent with nutritious meals,” O’Connor said.

“My experience there was stressful because I wanted to do well representing my state and myself. Although, I was still excited to have an opportunity to fight the best opponents in the country.”

Fighting in the Junior Male Division at 165 pounds, O’Connor faced Elijah Lugo from Marietta, Ga. In a dominant performance, O’Connor won each round and captured the silver medal via unanimous decision by all five judges.

The decisive victory was another career milestone that he described as motivation to stay consistent.

“By working hard, I made it into the finals earning me a silver medal and building my experience for the future … I feel I have the potential to take it as far as I possibly can, as long as I continue putting forth my best effort, every day,” he said.

The conscious effort to embrace daily challenges began when O’Connor was diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and autism as a child.

His unlikely route to the squared circle started early. O’Connor’s parents, Tim and Brenda, searched and struggled to find an outlet that enabled their son to find structure. Despite repeated attempts to try different activities and sports, the environments weren’t compatible with O’Connor.

“My parents tried everything that was meant for kids with similar issues, yet nothing seemed to work. I tried sports such as soccer, even karate, but nothing gave me the discipline and concentration I needed,” he said.

Ultimately, O’Connor’s parents decided to try a boxing gym in South River. O’Connor admitted that initially, he had no interest or aspirations for the sport. However, that sentiment quickly changed once he discovered his natural talent.

“They took much needed steps in changing the direction of my life and future by making an opportunity out of a challenging situation,” O’Connor said.

At the young age of 7, he entered Brunswick Boxing Stars in North Brunswick. Amidst the heavyweights, gym equipment, and competition he not only found discipline, but an extended family of friends and mentors.

Owners of Brunswick Boxing Stars, JT Thompson and his wife Dionne, explained that the importance of instilling the core values of family and respect is more important than the sport itself.

JT shared that his gym is a melting pot of comradery shared by a tribe of diverse people. This acceptance allowed O’Connor to seamlessly transition into an environment that gradually transformed him into a champion.

Under the mentorship of coach John Silogy, O’Connor developed a skillset that shaped his mindset for life inside and outside the ring.

“He’s not only a great coach, but a role model who taught me the art of boxing and life lessons along the way. I couldn’t have done it without him,” he said.

“Without his patience, guidance, and willingness to acknowledge my potential, I would not be where I am today. He has become very much like a member of my family.”

O’Connor said the lessons learned from boxing have been applicable in every area of his life. He also credits the sport with strengthening both his physical and mental health.

“The lessons boxing has taught me are extensive, though the necessity for discipline, determination and dedication across life are most important. These principles I have used through diet, friendships, achieving good grades and acknowledging what’s needed for success, aside from competing at a high-level status in boxing,” he said.

“It has made me mentally stronger by teaching me to overcome obstacles and never let my emotions get to me, especially in the ring. Control, along with discipline, are one of the most critical lessons learned to defend myself, become a high-level competitor and a mentally strong individual.”

Now heading into his junior year in boxing, the South River native is ready to achieve another important milestone: winning a gold medal.

“My dreams are to return to nationals and win the gold medal and take it step by step, the best I can. These ambitions are consistent with the values instilled in me since beginning this sport,” O’Connor said.

“Given the opportunity to compete in this sport has drastically changed the outcome of my future, potential, and confidence. With my support system, guidance, and mental strength, I feel nothing is impossible.”

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