His sparring partners have dubbed him ‘The Punching Pastor’ but for Ryan Vallee boxing is just another way to forge connections.
The heavyweight recently took out the South East Queensland amateur title by knockout in the 2nd round. But while most of his boxing contemporaries would be painting the town red after such a decisive win, Ryan was preparing to follow up one life goal with another.
Less than 12 hours after his title fight, Ryan was on stage at Riverlife Baptist in Seventeen Mile Rocks being ordained as a minister in the Baptist Church.
Ryan laughs when I ask him whether his church were worried about him turning up to the service with a black eye or worse!
“The thing is I didn’t tell many people around the church because I didn’t know what was going to happen! We were trying to keep it on the down low but word was starting to leak out. Everyone just thought it was funny, what are the odds that these life goals line up! I did get a small black eye but luckily it didn’t show until Monday!”
Growing up in the Pacific North West of the United States and the province of Alberta in Canada, Ryan studied theology in Vancouver before moving to Australia and marrying.
In those younger days though it wasn’t boxing that took centre stage but ice hockey.
“I lived in Red Deer, Alberta and sometimes it would be minus 40 degrees (celsius). We would walk as kids to the outdoor ice arenas to play hockey. You grew up very rough and tumble as I’m sure a lot of Australian kids did, just without the cold.”
Having only taken up boxing in the last few years, Ryan told 96five that it was initially for fitness after doctors informed him that he had genetically high cholesterol. He had become fascinated with boxing in childhood after reading many of the books by Louis L’Amour.
“L’Amour was a western writer who had done a bit of boxing himself, so he always incorporated boxing into his frontier stories. Four years ago the doctors told me to lose a little bit of weight. I really wanted to reach some life goals so this was the perfect time to step into boxing.”
A Way to Connect
Training out of the Inala PCYC in Brisbane’s south west, Ryan says that one of the things he loves most about the sport is the connections made with other blokes.
“They know that I really care about people in the local community. It’s been a great thing, people from the church going into the Inala PCYC, and then them coming into the church to explore faith through the Alpha program. These are intersects of life that normally don’t happen.”
I’m curious to know what people’s responses are when they meet a pastor who enjoys boxing in his spare time, but Ryan’s response is that for the most part he’s only ever met with positivity.
“Aussie’s don’t seem to be afraid of the rough and tumble sports. Some people have different questions and barriers, but for most boxers and myself we just see it as a sport. People in the church really appreciate building those relationships in the local area.”
What’s more remarkable about Ryan’s boxing journey is that not only were the South East Queensland Titles his first taste of competition, but that he also made it back into the ring after a series of challenges that only life can serve up.
Around one year after first donning the gloves Ryan snapped his achilles tendon whilst sparring. The injury required surgery as well as a one year recovery period. But that wasn’t the only challenge Ryan would face.
“During that year my wife had some serious health issues, we had a baby after many years of trying, which was a process that came down to one embryo and one chance. That was a huge process with such a beautiful outcome.”
With Ryan completely new to competition there was also a bit of a learning curve with regards to processes inside the ropes. I ask Ryan what his reaction was the second after he knocked his opponent out. Ryan laughs as he recalls the moment:
“On the knockout I didn’t know what to do!! My coach asked what was I doing and I said I didn’t know whether to help him up or maybe pray for him! The real funny thing was that the crowd went wild – half the church elders and a lot of the pastors turned up so it was a really hilarious mix in the crowd.”
But with his initial success comes a few reality checks as to whether he can continue boxing in a competitive sense.
“Family comes first, and then church life is obviously important, (to compete) takes a lot of work and training. I’m open to opportunities but I have to weigh up everything else in life.”
Next year Ryan will be taking long service leave to visit family in the US, but before that there’s one event that’s keeping him busy.
“The City Prayer Gathering is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of. It started three years ago, a few of us would go to King George Square to pray on the first Sunday of the New Year. The vision is that all traditions and walks of life would gather together for the sake of our city.”
The Interdenominational City Prayer Gathering is on in King George Square, Sunday January 5th 2020 from 5pm.
Boxing footage below thanks to Rodger van Raalte.