Area duo hitting ring in quest to knock out cancer

Mike O’Malley was out in his neighborhood jogging on New Year’s Day, a sight that his neighbors weren’t quite used to.

One said to his wife, “Looks like Mike has a New Year’s resolution.”

To which she replied, “Not just any resolution – he thinks he’s a boxer.”

Well, guess what – between now and May 15, the 2003 Nashua High School alum really is.

O’Malley and another friend, Bishop Guertin alum Jon Pastor, are going to be boxing in the charity event for Haymakers For Hope at the House of Blues in Boston on May 15 at 7:30 p.m. It won’t be against each other, as they are in different weight classes, but it will be part of a series of three-round bouts as the organization raises money for cancer research.

Milford’s Cameron Conley, the four-year-old son of friends, Joe and Val Conley, is suffering from a rare form of cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and the two are fighting in his honor.

So how do two guys get into the boxing world, for however brief a time it may be? The pair, who went to school together at Elm Street, didn’t know the other was doing it until they saw each other at a Haymakers orientation. In fact, they hadn’t seen each other for 15 years.

“That was really cool,” Pastor said. “That gave me some motivation, knowing there was some guy I could commiserate with for sure.”

For O’Malley, a North Easton, Mass., resident, he was at work in Boston managing a software group when someone asked him if he had heard about it. He hadn’t done something charitable in a while, was the father to two little ones, “and I didn’t think it would be this. I sent in a token application, ended up getting selected, and away we go.”

Pastor, who handles major accounts for a health company in Newton, Mass., was more familiar with the organization, having already rooted on another fellow Guertin grad, Mark Avery, who fought a few years ago (Avery is actually director of the program now). And he has donated to the Jimmy Fund and worked at Dana Farber before.

“With Haymakers, I’ve always thought it would be cool to do it,” he said. “But I never had the gall to say I would do it.”

Pastor was watching a boxing movie at home – he thinks it might have been “Bleed For This” about the life of Providence fighter Vinny Pazienza – and decided to do it. “It was pretty inspirational,” he said. “I said ‘If I’m going to do it, I better do it now.’ My wife and I just had a newborn and I figured it was going to get harder and harder to focus my attention on it.”

According to Pastor, there were 250 applicants. Part of the application is your athletic history, work background, and how much you feel you will be able to raise.

“You show you have some dedication to fitness sometime in the past,” Pastor said. “So you don’t sign up and not show up for

training.”

The goal for the event in total is $750,000, and each signed up for $30,000 and are hoping to bring in at least $25,000. O’Malley and Pastor each got an emails just after Christmas saying they were selected.

That’s the easier part. The hard part?

Becoming a boxer when you’ve never been one

before.

Neither had ever boxed before outside of what O’Malley described as “a couple of messing around fitness classes.”

O’Malley, who played baseball and golf at Nashua, enjoyed the holidays, and then changed up his diet and began training at least six days a week. Two of them are double sessions. O’Malley works out at a gym in the Weymouth, Mass., Area, and is trained by Chris Traietti and Ryan Kielczweski, both professional fighters for TKO BoxFit.

The sessions also include mental preparation and strategy. Haymakers provides a list of trainers, or you can get your own, but they monitor everything very carefully to ensure the participants are getting the proper guidance, etc. to avoid injury.

Nearly three weeks ago, O’Malley fought someone for the first time.

“That was wild,” he said. “The way our coaches did it, the gym was empty. A bell went off, each of us looked at each other, and we started punching. We had been hitting the bags, doing the running for six to eight weeks and then it was, ‘Oh, OK.’ It was a weird feeling, not as natural as I thought it would be.”

How about taking a punch?

“That’s the ultimate learning aspect of this,” O’Malley said. “Everybody shadow boxed in the mirror. We’ve all gone for a run or two. But not all of us have taken a punch. I certainly hadn’t taken enough to know what I was going to get. You get walloped, it’s a true life moment. You hesitate, look around, and you’re still standing.”

Pastor, who lives in nearby Chelmsford, did the same thing. His diet was for real, and he started working out halfway into January. Pastor was trying at one point to get famed Lowell boxer Micky Ward to possibly train him through some indirect contacts, but it didn’t work out. So he went through Haymakers, which had partner gyms and is using Nolan Brothers Boxing in Waltham, Mass., namely Mark and Matt Nolan.

Pastor walked into the gym a week after orientation, was asked what his exposure to boxing was, and he said, “You’re looking at it.”

“I might have hit a bag barehanded and thought I broke my hand,” he said. “(The trainers) were excited; they said ‘This is perfect.’ It’s been quite the experience.”

He started sparring about a month ago, and it was light at first. “I took a couple of licks but it was more of an educational thing,” he said.

But it changed. He went to basically an “open fight night” at Boston Boxing in Allston, Mass., with his trainers earlier this month and was put to the test – an acutal three-round bout “with a guy who had been fighting for a couple of years. I tell you what, that was wild with a capital W.”

O’Malley was impressed with the way Haymakers monitors things. “They take every aspect of this, they evaluate the gyms, evaluate the coaches, in order to make sure of the progress you’re receiving,” he said.

Pastor is dropping 40 pounds to fight in the 165-pound class and has about 23 more to go. “It’ll bring me back to my high school wrestling days,” said Pastor, who wrestled and played football at BG. O’Malley, who will box at 160, was a member of the final graduating class for the one Nashua High.

The two can’t imagine what boxers they’ll turn into by two months as they are eight weeks in. They found out a week or so ago who they’re May 15 opponents are and sparred with them at a Haymakers session in Waltham last Sunday.

“I hope,” Pastor said, “that it’s better than it is now.”

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