Columbia gym owner pursues the pros in two sports
COLUMBIA-Not many people can say they're a pro athlete. But for Pat O'Hara, he is close to saying he's in the pros in not one, but two sports.
O'Hara, the co-owner of MO' Fitness, a new gym in Columbia, is pursuing his dream of being an NFL kicker, while currently competing as an athlete in the National Professional Grid League (NPGL).
Sports have always been in O'Hara's blood since a young age. During his youth, practices and games on the soccer pitch filled his days, and he and his brother had dreams of going to the pros.
"I had dreams of playing in the World Cup," O'Hara said. "My brother and I would watch Team USA and we thought one day maybe we could do that."
After playing competitively in high school, O'Hara decided to not play in college, and went to Washburn University in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas with no intention of being a college athlete. But then one day while bored in college he and his brother decided to kill time by kicking footballs.
"My brother went out and told me to come kick a football with him," O'Hara said. "We made it into a competition and were hitting 50 and 55-yarders and we found it super easy."
What originally started as a way to spend an afternoon turned into a way for O'Hara to play in a sport collegiately. After posting videos to Youtube of his 75-yard field goals, O'Hara received offers to try-out for top college football programs. One of the people who contacted him was Coach Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, who offered him a preferred walk-on spot.
"I was speechless," O'Hara said. "I didn't think it was Coach Stoops at first but it certainly was."
Before long, injuries and poor kicking affected those above him on the depth chart, and the man who hadn't kicked a football until college was starting for on of the nation's top programs. During his senior year in 2010, O'Hara and then number-one ranked Oklahoma came up to Columbia to take on the Tigers for Homecoming. On the opening kickoff, O'Hara booted the ball like he had countless times before. But this time, Gahn McGaffie returned the kick 86-yards for a touchdown, which set the tone for Missouri's 36-27 win over the Sooners.
"It was a very big game. That place was so loud, one of the loudest places I've ever played in," O'Hara said. "Opening kickoff it comes back to the house and we end up losing the game."
O'Hara had no plans of coming back to Columbia after this game. But as fate would have it, he'd be back sooner than he thought. After graduation, he went back home to Kansas, then to Ann Arbor for an internship with the University of Michigan Athletic Department. However, after his now-fiance got accepted into graduate school at MU, the man who was responsible for one of the biggest plays in recent Missouri football history was moving back to the heart of Tiger Nation.
While he's still a Sooner at heart, O'Hara has come to enjoy living in Columbia.
"I love this town, I really do," O'Hara said. "Very nice town, nice area, great people. I love it."
In Columbia, O'Hara decided to pursue a career in group fitness training and worked at a CrossFit gym in the city. While working, he learned about GRID, a co-gender team sport that combines endurance with weightlifting and speed exercises.
"I fell in love with it the first time I ever did it," O'Hara said. "I could compete and I missed the competition atmosphere from college and I was in sports my whole life and I've been hooked ever since."
After picking up the sport, O'Hara got invited to the NPGL combine, and with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the Phoenix Rise called his name.
"We sat around the living room and watched the NPGL draft, and second round my name came up and I thought that had to be a typo or a misprint but there it was," O'Hara said. "Just to put in all that effort and time and training and to see it pay off by being picked up by a professional team was a great feeling for sure."
While he's enjoyed success on the GRID field, O'Hara is still looking to find success on the gridiron. Since leaving Oklahoma, O'Hara has pursued making it to the NFL as a kicker.
"I just traveled to different combines, hired an agent, sent tape to scouts, just hoping to get a call," said O'Hara.
Last November, O'Hara received a call from the New England Patriots to come to their facility for a try-out, and this spring, he traveled to Foxboro. Though they didn't give him an offer, the team was pleased with his work.
"They said I did a very good job, to keep kicking," O'Hara said. "They said I have a strong leg and right place, right time and I could get a job on the team for sure."
As well, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said hi to O'Hara, which he said was one of the coolest moments of his life.
Though he's not on an NFL roster yet, O'Hara still goes out to different football fields in Columbia each week to kick and improve his craft, to hopefully become a pro in a second sport.
"I want to make the NFL one day," O'Hara said. "That's my goal."