Ryan O’Keefe doesn’t do things by halves.
He enjoys cooking, so he started his own cooking show. He likes riding his bike, so he started hosting international bike tours. He admits to having somewhat of an “obsessive personality” and that’s without mentioning his incessant approach to his job as an AFL footballer.
In a 14-year career that has earned O’Keefe two premierships, a Norm Smith medal, a club best and fairest and All Australian honours, you can’t question his approach.
“If I decide to do something I fully immerse myself in it. I have always thought that if you are going to do something you might as well do it properly and give it 100 per cent otherwise you are wasting your own time and probably someone else’s,” O’Keefe says.
The fact that O’Keefe is still an elite performer for the Sydney Swans at 32 years of age is no surprise, while he is famous for training hard, the key to his longevity is training smart.
For O’Keefe, a big part of training smart is eating the right things. He removed sugar from diet a long time ago and he can’t remember the last time he ate a hamburger. He sources all his food from the farmers market, operating under the mantra – paddock to plate.
He credits healthy eating as a major tool in his arsenal, maybe as crucial as his ability to shrug a tackle or kick a long left foot goal.
“You are what you eat. It’s amazing how well you feel when you are eating fresh, healthy and sustainable foods…I think diet is a critical component to playing our game and for AFL footballers it’s probably still an area which they haven’t got 100 per cent right, so I try to be a bit of a campaigner for eating fresh food.”
His focus on healthy eating has driven O’Keefe to the top of the AFL, but also into the kitchen. As an 18-year-old draftee having to fend for himself and sick of eating the same pasta dishes, O’Keefe began experimenting with his cooking and he hasn’t looked back.
He has become known as the footballer who can cook and with the rate his cooking is improving, in retirement O’Keefe might be known as the chef who played football.
O’Keefe honed his skills working for three years in Sydney restaurant Cloudy Bay Fish Co. under head chef Jeff Schroeter. He appeared on Celebrity Masterchef in 2009 and has this year launched an online cooking show of his own – Healthy Eating with Ryan O’Keefe.
The idea for the show came from the success of healthy eating tips O’Keefe was releasing through his Twitter account.
He has 11 episodes in the can with plans for another season.
“The idea, theme and philosophy are all mine,” says O’Keefe. “I’m trying to show people how easy it is to eat healthy and how it tastes nice as well.”
“I enjoy dinner parties and having people over and that community feel…Nothing beats a good meal and good conversation.”
Cooking feeds into another passion of O’Keefe’s – charity. With former teammate Jared Crouch, O’Keefe formed Premiership Quarter; a business focused on the idea that success is the journey.
The journey is international bike tours that raise money to support various charitable causes.
The idea for the concept came from a love of cycling; O’Keefe rides 20 kilometres to training every day, and the experience of riding 500 kilometres through Northern Vietnam at the end of 2010 to raise money for the Oncology Children’s Foundation.
“During the trip we saw people embrace the challenge and it was a life changing experience for a few of these people. They were really excited to spend time with us and see how we go about it and develop teamwork and leadership skills.”
The Premiership Quarter have run tours each year since, taking in China and Burma, and in this off-season they will run their third tour, this time through Spain’s Camino Trail. They have been joined by some younger teammates, including Jed Lamb and Alex Brown and others from all walks of life.
These trips allow them to support various charitable foundations, on location and back in Australia. During their trip to China they were able to donate money to a leprosy colony and help a farmer replenish the entire agriculture for a small township.
“We basically paid all their bills for two years, it was a small amount of money for us but to them it meant the world.”
O’Keefe remains an ambassador for the Oncology Children’s Foundation and GO Australia.
As a footballer with a profile O’Keefe believes he has a responsibility to be a role model and give something back to the community.
“We are so fortunate with the position we are in to do something we love, I know we work extremely hard to get where we are, but we have been given this opportunity and some people aren’t given that opportunity and are less fortunate,” he says.
“That’s what it’s all about – it can’t be all about ourselves.”
With a wife and two kids, there is wonder whether O’Keefe has any time for himself; however he says he’d have it no other way.
“It’s a good balance outside of playing AFL, AFL is a very highly consuming industry you’ve got to really immerse yourself in it but you need some outlets to keep you distracted and keep you busy and your mind away from football at times.”