Article/Photo: Scott Taylor/Metro
She was the target of bullies as a kid.
Now, Emma O’Connor is a fitness fanatic, the owner of a London gym, an MMA fighter and a beacon for boys and girls who themselves are bullied.
The 29-year-old O’Connor takes her roles as entrepreneur and advocate as seriously as a right cross to the jaw.
The gym opened about a year-and-a-half ago in the Soho area of the city across the street from her dad’s house.
It is not a spa by any means. Punching bags hang from the ceiling and free weights rest against walls along with weights and other fitness equipment. It’s big and it’s open, but on a sunny morning with the garage door wide open for the cooling breeze there’s an atmosphere of camaraderie among the female-only members and a feeling that O’Connor might be on to something.
Some go to gyms to work out, but O’Connor wants to offer more than that.
There’s kickboxing, cardio training, balance training, speed and agility workouts and more. That’s the business side of things. Strong mind, strong body is her motto.
Naturally, she needs paying members to keep the lights on, but O’Connor still finds the time to make her gym and herself accessible to kids who need a place to go to improve their self-confidence or just get off the streets.
She’s involved with the London Cross-Cultural Learning Centre, the London Anti-Bullying Coalition and the Dynamic Dozen among others.
There’s also a calendar that can be purchased on the gym’s website. Proceeds of sales go to the youth group Femme Force Sisters.
“We’re not counselors or anything,” O’Connor said about herself and her members, many of whom also volunteer their own time, “but we wanted to create some self-awareness about bullying. I want (kids) to know that they have the power to stand up for their rights.”
She’s also behind a video now on YouTube called Words Do Hurt. She hopes as many young people as possible see it because it just might help someone.
“Yes, our members come out to help as well. They volunteer their time to come out and help these kids. The girls at my gym are awesome. What I’m about is what I’m going to attract and they really want help out and they understand what it is to be a kid.”
Sports plus fitness equal self-confidence, and self-confidence is one way to end bullying.
“I have a vision of having a youth centre where kids will come in and use sports and use fitness to build self-confidence,” she said. “There are positive things they can do in a gym that they can take and apply to the outside world.”
O’Connor’s mom died when O’ Connor was only 19-years old. She sees her work as one way to honour her memory.
“A lot of what I’m trying to do is to give something back. My mom was always all about that, so I feel this is what I need to do for her.”
And soon, a new chapter to her story.
Her first professional MMA fight is scheduled for October. She’s been in the octagon before, but as an amateur. As the saying goes, this one is for all the marbles.
“I had an opportunity to do this and I thought it would be great to represent London. There’s some money to be won and in my mind I thought I’ll just try to win some money for the youth program. I feel like this is on my control to do something positive.”