Tell us a bit about yourself? Name, Uni, Course, Year, Interests
I’m Domonic O’Connor, I turn 24 next month, my background is as a rugby player, I used to play international rugby in my younger years so that’s how I was introduced to fitness and the gym before I gained a lot of weight and stopped playing because I injured my knee. At the moment I’m doing a masters by research following onto a PhD at the University of Leeds. I love reading, I’m a massive bookworm, I love coming home in the evenings and reading, I’m a massive Jack Reacher fan, I love the Jack Reacher books and trying to figure out what’s happened haha.
When were you at your worst? What was that and how did you end up there?
It was at the end of my 2nd year of Uni (and I’m now just starting my 6th year of Uni!) which was a few years ago and I was basically just going out on socials with the rugby boys, going drinking, drinking ridiculous amounts of alcohol and eating takeaways. I was never going to the gym or working out I was too intimidated by the Uni gym, in my eyes, everyone looked amazing and really lean, they looked like they knew what they were doing and they were the business. I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb, so I drank more and ate more, got bigger and worked out less and it became a bit of a vicious cycle. I was over 110kg in bodyweight at my heaviest. I got to a stage where I wouldn’t step on the scales because I knew I wouldn’t like what I saw.
I never really had to think about training and nutrition when I played academy rugby because I had people to do that for me. But when I came to Uni and had to start doing all of that myself I just didn’t. So I gained a load of weight as a consequence.
What prompted you to make a change?
It was an instant snap. I went on a year abroad for my third year studying in Hong Kong and out there I was twice the size of everyone, I looked ridiculous, Asians are quite small people generally so I felt twice as big. I would go to the beach with my friends and I didn’t like taking my top off in front of them. Being in Hong Kong got out of the environment of parties and takeaways and stuff so there was no more social pressures or ques to keep living the lifestyle I had been. As soon as I was out there I decided I was making a change now, I’m going to spend a year working out, eating healthy, I’m going to change, then when I get back to Leeds hopefully people won’t recognise me.
And that is what happened, I got back to Leeds and everyone was like “damn Dom you’ve lost weight”.
I hated going to the beach, I couldn’t stand being in swim trunks or how I looked. I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin.
How did you do things differently? What was the journey like?
I initially decided I’m going to eat home cooked food, nutritious whole food and I’m going to go to the gym. I didn’t know what I’d do there initially but thought that something was better than nothing… And it was!
The weight started to fall off of me really quickly, and then it just kinda snowballed from there as I started seeing improvements I thought to myself right I want to see improvements in this area and this area and this area and I started to tweak things and become addicted to it, learning how my body responded to different styles of training through trial and error, what I enjoyed doing in the gym and how I enjoyed it. Then I wanted to get the most out of my training so I decided nutrition needs to go up a level so I started to learn about diet, what should I be eating? Home cooked eating is good but should I be eating certain types of food and when? And it progressed and it progressed.
I reached a stage after a year and a half where I looked at myself and thought “when I started this, this is where I wanted to get to. Now I’m here, if you told me I’d look like this in a year and a half I wouldn’t have believed you.” And if you told me I was going to become a physique competitor I definitely wouldn’t have believed you, ha ha!
I started off because I wanted to be healthier and happier and it progressed to the point where I dieted for a long time and made huge changes.
Where did that take you? What was the end result?
I was back in Leeds doing the final year of my undergrad degree and one day I woke up and thought “you know what, I look pretty good. Clothes started to fit me better, I wasn’t wearing baggy clothes anymore, I felt like I looked alright wearing flattering clothes. This was a huge thing for me because I used to leave the house wearing baggy hoodies and trackies, covering up, because I hated the way nice clothes fitted on me and how I looked. And I thought to myself “this is where I wanted to be”. Then I said to myself I’m not happy with this, I want to push myself further and see what I’m capable, then I set myself a goal of competing. I decided to commit to it, I knew what I was doing, let’s see how hard I can go and what I can produce.
I still look at the photos of myself today and I still can’t believe I managed to get into that condition. I look at myself in the gym now and even though I’m not especially lean compared to what I was I think damn I’ve got a lot more muscle than I used to.
Even in interviews like this where people think my story can help others I never imagined I’d ever be here.
What would you say to anyone who knows they want to live a different lifestyle but is unsure/scared/stuck?
Something is better than nothing. Everyone has to start from ground zero. It’s so easy to compare yourself to all these people who have been doing it for 10+ years, have amazing genetics and look fantastic. But they didn’t start there, they weren’t born that way, everyone goes into the gym at ground zero at one point. It’s a great level playing field because we all have to start from the bottom and build ourselves up. Just go out and do it, figure out what works for you and you’ll learn and progress. It is a slow process but you’ve gotta fall in love with the process and you will as you start to see changes.
If the next 6 months go by and you don’t make a change or you don’t do anything you’re going to be in the exact same position as you are now. There’s nothing worse than not making a try, 6 months are going to go by regardless, you might as well try.
I used to give myself excuses like I’ve always been a big guy my body isn’t meant to be lean, I don’t have a good frame for a six-pack. As soon as you cut the excuses out and make an effort and decide to try you can at least think to yourself that if nothing changes at least you tried. The changes will happen, you’ve just gotta try, you’ve just gotta do it.
Why do you think MASS Student Shredding is the perfect opportunity to make a transformation?
MASS Student Shredding gives you something to work towards and a goal. So many people start a diet and a workout regime and they don’t have an end in sight and that doesn’t give them a goal to aim towards or a yardstick to measure their progress on. At least if you set yourself a goal you can hold yourself accountable, you say “right I’m entering MASS student shredding and I’m going to improve as much as I can over the course of the competition”. And at the end of it, you can tick it off and have something to show what you’ve achieved. You can know that you’ve met your goal.
The competition also gives you a support network for training and nutrition advice. When I started I was very blindly following stuff on Instagram without understanding why I was doing it. When I look back there was so much stuff I was doing that wasn’t necessarily wrong but wasn’t optimal. Stuff that I could have improved, it was a massive trial and error. If someone was there to point me on the right path and say right this is what you are doing then the process would have been so much quicker and easier. The transformation would have been a quicker process. Having weekly emails, a dedicated support group and free access to a world-class training app (ptonline) will be game-changing.
I think the community aspect of MASS Student Shredding will help. A lot of people won’t necessarily understand what you’re doing and why, they’ll appreciate it and your dedication but they won’t get it. My mum and my friends say “I don’t know why you want to diet but the dedication is impressive”, so none of your friends shut you down for it but they don’t relate either. MASS SS will put you amongst people who will relate, a lot of my best friends are at the gym now. Your vibe attracts your tribe. I’ve so many friends through MASS now who share the same hobby, people I never would have normally met or spoken to are now some of my closest friends and it helps me stay on track and learn more. You’re progressing, they’re progressing, and you tend to bring out the best in each other.
What have you done since?
I’m now a postgraduate research student at Uni Leeds, I’m still in the school of psychology but I’m now in an obesity research group I’m doing a masters by research and progressing onto a PhD next year researching the role of sweet taste in appetite and obesity to try and help obese populations lose weight effortlessly.
I competed at the MASS SPC and I competed at bodypower. Both huge events being stood in front of hundreds of people. I played rugby for England and that was in front of a few people but never hundreds and never in speedos haha… There’s no hiding when you’re in front of the camera in speedos haha.
What are your future plans?
My career goal is to be an obesity expert, to try and envoke widespread change and help as many people as possible.
In competing I’ve got my eyes set on winning the MASS SPC 2019 Physique Overall title.