The Mayo man in New York teaching fitness classes from his rooftop

Covid-19: ‘New Yorkers value work and hustle. This has allowed people to slow down’

Séamus Keane, from Louisburgh, Co Mayo, lives in Manhattan and is fitness trainer.

What has the mood been like in New York during the pandemic?
At the beginning there was a sense of panic and alarm as the coronavirus infection numbers grew every day. But in true New York spirit that was short lived and the mood quickly turned to a sense of hope. Everyone banded together and have admirably worked through, especially it this past month. This week number of deaths was below 100 in the city for the first time in over a month, which sadly is still a lot of people to die but it's much lower than normal. There have been more than 16,000 deaths from Covid-19 in New York City.

Are you glad you stayed in New York during the crisis?
As of now I'm glad I stayed. The main reason I didn't go home to Ireland at the start was because New York was the epicentre of the virus and Ireland was relatively unaffected, so I thought there might be a high chance of me being asymptomatic and carrying the virus unknowingly. I didn't want to contribute to spreading anything by travelling unnecessarily. In saying that, I'm looking forward to getting back to Ireland. As soon as it's safe I plan to go home for a few weeks.

Why did you leave Ireland?
I first came to New York with three of my closest friends in 2015 to go on adventure and to travel, shortly after graduating from college in Galway. Life in New York (before Covid-19) was a mad house. I love that part of it, but I also love coming home – two completely contrasting scenes. Normally New York is very fast paced. There's an energy here I have never experienced anywhere else.


What made you want to live there?
I worked in finance when I came over, but I really didn't like it. Two months into the job, I had made an exercise programme and meal plan for almost every person in the office so I decided to pack the job in not long after. I turned my passion into a career and started training people in Central Park. It has progressed from there. I feel help I'm helping a lot of people and have set up a strong base here now.

Has New York changed much since Covid-19?
Everything has slowed down and this has allowed a lot of people time to reflect on what's really important. I find Irish people value family and community, but New Yorkers generally value work and hustle. These last two months I've noticed some people have reassessed what's really important and altered their value system a bit.

Bars, shops and restaurants have stayed closed during this time. There are very few people using the subway system – usually it’s packed to capacity. People are walking and cycling everywhere. There are not many cars on the streets. I cycled into Times Square yesterday and it was deserted. It was so unusual. You could have a game of five-a-side in the middle of Times Square.

Since lockdown, you've decided to teach exercise classes on your roof. Why?
I run Hanuman Health Club with Eoghan O'Kelly (from Co Clare). Our gym is focuses on "movement quality" and holistic health. Our clients range from a 90-year-old lady to an Olympic athlete ranked number five in the world. Our gym was forced to close it's door on March 16th. We decided to do roof classes out of necessity. Parks were shut and going out in public was highly advised against, so it was the only option really. At the beginning we said if one person tunes in and we are helping even one person feel better each day then we will continue to do it. My housemate and I painted the top of our apartment rooftop and started giving exercise classes to people online. In the space of a few weeks our following went from New York to Ireland, UK, Australia, Singapore, Dubai, Iceland, Poland and more.

Since beginning we have received some really nice messages from people in the US, at home and from other places thanking us for making their day or week that bit better, which is very satisfying. The classes we give from the rooftop are free on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. Anyone can join in at 9am New York time and 2pm Irish and UK time. The Friday classes are the most popular with people chasing that "Friday Feeling" and we have started over the last month joining up with other trainers in Ireland so we have a split screen and together we train those watching from two different countries.

What does your day look like now?
I used to be in the gym for 7am until 6pm. I still get up at the same time each day, but I spend the first few hours of the day teaching rooftop exercise classes. I've found that an exercise class gives a sense of normality to a person's day. People have told me they are finding it very helpful to move in some way each day for both their physical and mental health

Tell us about how the Irish in New York who have been affected by Covid-19 are coping.
I have been coaching the Team Aisling runners, which is made up of first and second-generation Irish people, since last summer. The group decided to do our bit and create a series of virtual 5km runs through the month of May and donate all proceeds to Sláinte 2020. The organisation was formed to help some of the most vulnerable people in New York right now. Sláinte 2020 was founded by the New York GAA, United Irish Counties, the Aisling Irish Community Centre, the New York Irish Centre and the Emerald Isle Immigration Centre.

Members of the Irish community currently living in New York who can demonstrate genuine financial hardship caused by the Covid-19 crisis and who have very limited or no access to other sources of fiscal aid will benefit. A lot of people wanted to help and donate, but didn’t want to complete the 5km, and that is welcome too.

Does being Irish count there at the moment?
Absolutely. The Irish always look out for each other wherever we are. This is so relevant too in the event we are running as we notice that most all of the people getting involved and donating are first or second generation Irish themselves.

Is there anything you miss about Ireland right now?
I had a trip booked home to my family in Ireland for Easter. That didn't happen, so I will definitely do that as soon as it's safe to do so. I did miss the Cadbury's Creme Egg, but my Dad has one left in the bedroom for me so that will be devoured when I finally get home.

Keane trains the Team Aisling running group which is running anexercise event on May 31st to raise funds for Irish people in New York affected by Covid-19. Register online or donate to the Team Aisling for Sláinte Fund here.