Like most 21-year-olds, Ryan O’Connor lived a carefree life.
Partying with mates was the biggest thing on the laid-back Irishman’s mind.
That was until his life was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
O’Connor was strapping Karlakee Miss for his boss, Adam Durrant, at a midweek meeting at Ascot last year when the feisty filly lashed out and kicked him.
Prolonged pain from the incident led to further tests and the revelation that shocked O’Connor.
“I got kicked in the back and ended up going to hospital,” O’Connor said.
“It wasn’t getting any better, so they looked more into it and it turned out I had a 9cm tumour.
“I was healthy and fit at the time and just never felt right.
“When I found out, I thought at least I found out when I did because obviously it had been there for a while to grow that big.
“It was one of the most aggressive cancers to spread, so in a way it was a blessing in disguise getting kicked.”
O’Connor underwent multiple surgeries and endured chemotherapy. His weight dropped from 64kg to 52kg.
“You’re up and down all the time,” O’Connor said.
“It was definitely a learning curve. Getting to the stables and the races helped.
“The industry is like a family here. Everyone looks after you and the messages asking how I was and wishing me all the best helped get me through.”
O’Connor was given the all-clear in January. He still has regular check-ups to make sure there is no recurrence.
Durrant, WA’s leading trainer, praised O’Connor’s courage.
“You just wouldn’t expect it to happen to a healthy 21-year-old,” Durrant said.
“It was a big shock. It just shows you how precious life is and puts things into perspective.
“He’s lived with me since he started riding trackwork for me and he’s like my little brother.”
O’Connor, the son of Irish trainer Padraig, was born in Kerry and moved to WA in 2015.
He worked for legendary trainer Fred Kersley at Ascot for 18 months before joining the Durrant stable.
His first day back at work after beating cancer coincided with a mare’s first day at Durrant’s stable. It was Enticing Star.
“I actually tried to not ride her because she looked a bit mad, but I think Adam’s words were ‘get on it and don’t dare come back without her’,” O’Connor said. “Once I figured who she was, I thought ‘I’ll keep riding her’.”
Enticing Star, a winner at eight of nine starts, is rated WA’s best chance in today’s Group 1 Winterbottom Stakes (1200m) at Ascot.
“I’m curious and apprehensive,” owner Bob Peters said.
“Her last run is a query. It would be nice to be surprised.”