Tuesday 24 April 2018

Ex-bad boy boxer Egan wants to adopt an African baby

Olympic hero Kenny Egan tells Niamh Horan how a charity trip to Africa changed his life

Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

HE'S the Olympic hero with a bad boy reputation -- womanising, boozing, and fighting his way to unwanted fame and notoriety.

So when Kenny Egan tells me with a very straight face that he wants to put his wild ways behind him and adopt an African baby, I can't help but wonder if he's taken one knock too many in the ring.

"Yes, I definitely would consider it some time in the future, when I'm in the position to do so," he said.

The boxing champ has just returned from building houses for the A-Z Children's Charity in the Nansana region of Uganda and he has his eyes set on bigger things than Olympic medals.

"I was blown away by how beautiful these kids were," he explains wistfully.

"They had absolutely nothing. And yet they still had a smile on their face. It was very sad. Especially at the orphanage where kids had been found in the back of taxis, in skips, down lanes because their parents couldn't afford to keep them.

"And I was thinking of adopting," he explains. "I never really thought of having kids before this -- but it's something that I considered when I was over there."

The Dublin-born champ is sitting in a quiet corner of a Dublin hotel with a baseball cap pulled down over his bronzed visage and sipping a cup of tea. It's a long way from the days when he was cast as a playboy Lothario who partied his way through his Olympic fame and made RTEs Six One News with his impromptu disappearance ahead of a pivotal fight.

But things have changed.

Fresh from winning bronze in the European championships, he decided to go to the poverty stricken region of Africa and build houses for those less fortunate "instead of coming home and partying like a mad man".

"I've gotten my head together now," he says. "I'm an awful lot more settled in everything I do. It wouldn't bother me now to stay in for a couple of weeks at a time."

"I went through a rough time. I got in a bit of a rut, enjoying the party lifestyle. But that's all an experience for me.

"I'm older and wiser now. I only hang around with people I trust, people I knew before the games, my real mates."

And he feels it's paying off on both sides of the ropes. "I think the public's perception has changed of me. I think they see me as a good honest lad who's made a few mistakes. But that's life isn't it?"

But he won't take responsibility for everything.

Some of his mistakes are out of his control: a product of his make-up, he cheekily protests.

"Sometimes I wish I was an ugly boxer. If I was an ugly boxer I wouldn't get half the attention would I?" he asks, before breaking into the kind of goofy laugh you wouldn't expect from this well-built machine.

"My downfall is my looks isn't it? It's great to win the medal, but if you're half decent looking as well, you're f**ked," he says, chuckling again.

Still, deep down he knows his weakness isn't as simple as a pretty face.

Splashes of a frail-looking Alex Higgins before his lonely death struck a chord with the 28-year-old Dubliner in recent weeks -- as the ashen face of his sporting hero stared out at him like a cautionary tale from his local news stand.

"I see the sporting greats like George Best, and Alex Higgins more recently.

"You have these men that were once superheroes in their sport and then you look at their later lives and see what they became. Higgins is the perfect example. He died all alone in his flat. That's the last thing you want.

"They were great talents who were wasted in the end. The last thing I want to do is go down that road. That would be my biggest fear.

"But I have a good family around me and a strong head on my shoulders now and I won't let that happen."

"There's pressure there and temptation and for those guys everything is free. It happened to me when I came back from the Olympics. They walk into a pub and everyone wants to buy them a drink.

"That's what happens. Fame is a dangerous thing if

you let it get a hold of you. Everyone wanted to buy me a drink, I got sucked into it. But lucky enough I'm still here."

But he insists he has no regrets. "If I wasted my chance to go to the 2012 Olympics in London because of a partying lifestyle I would be sick."

Back in the CityWest gym, the boxer is training for the World Series of Boxing which starts in November -- as well as the qualifiers for the next Olympic games.

He is on target with his fitness levels, and his head is back in the zone -- but the children he will revisit in Africa before Christmas are never far from his mind.

"I was shaving next to one of the other boxers at the gym the other day. We were both looking into the mirror as I was telling him what I saw in Uganda, how the children have to walk miles every morning carrying big empty vessels because they've no running water in their homes. And I could see from the corner of my eye the big fella beside me slyly turning off the running tap," he laughed. "Maybe I am making a little difference," he mused.

Whatever way you look at it Kenny Egan is turning his world around, bit by bit.

Although he has little to prove in the ring, where he will battle for Olympic glory again in two years, it's outside the ropes where his biggest challenge lies.

Now he must deliver a knock-out blow to the partying lifestyle that has destroyed so many of our Irish sporting heroes. Only then will he be a true champ.

For more information on helping the most vulnerable children in Ugandan society, visit www.azkids.ie

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