No more excuses: people who got fit despite the obstacles
For most people, there are 101 excuses for not doing exercise. Yet there are some for whom even greater challenges have been no obstacle in getting to a fitter place
Healthy and happy: From left: Jade Delaney, Noel Gavin, Dearbhla Hynes and Sean Walsh in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Jade Delaney, 22, is a student from Sheriff Street, Dublin. She lost 9 stone, moving from 20 stone to 11 by working out at TRX Studio (www.trx.ie), a suspension training facility, in Dublin 3.
“I was so big that the only thing I could wear was men’s tracksuits. I’d have had no problem going out on weekends with my friends, but going shopping with them was too embarrassing. They’d want to go to Topshop, while I’d shop in Evans. I’d get down when I looked at myself in the mirror, but I never let it stop me enjoying myself. I think I used my weight to get people to laugh. But there was always that voice: ‘you’ll never lose this weight’.
“I got a cleaning job in the TRX studio at the end of 2013, and the trainer Brian suggested I pop into the classes. I was afraid the ropes would snap under my weight. The first few sessions were so hard, but quickly it became a routine. I’d clean the gym and then do the class three times a week.
“I didn’t stand on the weighing scales until I was 7 months into the routine and I realised I’d gone down to 12 stone. Food played a huge role in the weight loss too; In Ireland a salad means coleslaw, cheese and sliced ham, so I learned all about eating healthily. Beforehand, if I was told something was low fat, I’d have three portions. Now if I have a chocolate bar, I’d feel pretty bad about it. Why put all that work in just to undo it?
“These days, because I’m in college, I train about 4 days a week. It wasn’t easy to begin with, but it’s best to remember that, like with starting anything new, it’ll take a few weeks to get adapted. But things do get easier.”
Noel Gavin, 22, is a Westpark Fitness instructor from Tallaght, Dublin. After being diagnosed with epilepsy 7 years ago, Noel was put on medication, resulting in a weight of 15 stone and 40% body fat. Two years ago, he took action.
“I was so disheartened after being diagnosed that I stopped exercising completely and I gained weight pretty fast. Hearing my weight and body fat statistics was a real shock to the system, not least because I was still going to the gym, but not really doing anything productive. At New Year 2013, I decided to set myself some goals and after 4 months, I had completed my first indoor triathlon at Westpark Fitness. I managed a 10k run not long after.
“I’m not sure that it ever got easier the more I did it, but after never seeing myself as a sporty person, it was an amazing feeling to complete those events. In December 2014, I decided to give up alcohol completely and that’s when I noticed a massive change. I was training harder because I wasn’t waking up hungover on weekends. I went down to 12 and a half stone and my body fat was 12% I even managed to set up a running club, and I plan to set myself some more goals for next year, like Hell & Back.
“It’s important to remember that things won’t change overnight, and it’s all about consistency. I show people my ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures and they can barely believe it. I looked like I could have won a pie-eating contest before. But having that experience is great for my new job as a trainer, because I can tell them my story. Training six days a week at 6am just comes really naturally by now.”
Sean Walsh, 57, is a Business Intelligence Analyst at Irish Life from Donabate, Dublin. After being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in 2009, he signed on for a 5-week wellness programme within Irish Life, kick-starting a new regime.
“I knew I was overweight, but getting a diabetes diagnosis and being put on medication really hit the truth home: I had to do something. I’d played football until the age of 40 but, the odd walk aside, I was pretty good at making excuses to get out of exercise.
“One Monday morning after a pretty heavy weekend, an email came through at work asking for people to apply for the wellness programme with Karl Henry. I was a bit apprehensive about it all when I started, but Karl was pretty motivational. It was tough enough at the beginning; we were put on a ‘detox’ week and immediately I noticed a change in my blood sugar readings. Seeing those kinds of results was motivation enough. During those 5 weeks, I lost 7.5 pounds and 11 inches in measurements. Being told by my doctor that I could come off my diabetes medication was a genuinely incredible moment. I was overjoyed.
“I did keep it up since, and started running during lunchtime. Irish Life has some great facilities for anyone who wants to get fit. I still have a week or two where I might only fit one run in a week, but you know that you need to get back on track the week after. My wife and daughter started to come to the training sessions too, and between them they have lost loads of weight. It’s a huge help to have that kind of support within your family.”
Gemma Connolly, 42, is a facilities manager at the Irish Cancer Society, and is from Goatstown, Dublin. Since starting her fitness regime five years ago, she has lost four and a half stone and has climbed Kilimanjaro for the Irish Cancer Society (info available on treks at www.cancer.ie)
“I was never really active as a child. Like most people I would join Weight Watchers or go mad for a week walking, but that would be it. I came across as pretty body confident but on the Luas someone offered me a seat because they thought I was pregnant. I just pretended I was! Family members expressing concern about my weight would really hit me, too.
“The crunch moment came when I was asked to be a bridesmaid. I joined Weight Watchers, but knew I had to do something else. I’d read about kettlebells in Vogue magazine and it turned out that there was a studio five minutes from home. No-one appreciates how terrifying it is to be overweight and to walk into a gym for the first time. I always make sure to welcome first timers for that very reason.
“I left my first kettlebell class feeling invincible, like an Olympian… and then woke up thinking I’d broken my back. The chemist sent me off with a heat pack and some painkillers. I don’t know why but something made me stick with it. The wedding was a handy goal to work towards, and then people giving me compliments kept me going. Pretty soon, the ‘new you’ becomes just ‘you’, and I was in kettlebell class four or five times a week. I still don’t know what I did with my evenings beforehand.
“I was a size 22 before, and now I’m a 14. I cried the first time a dress fitted me in Karen Millen. To be able to buy off the rack and designer clothes is priceless to me.
“Before I signed on to climb Kilimanjaro, I hadn’t set foot on a hill in my life. It was one of the longest weeks of my life, but it changed my life. I even hill-walk in the sleet, snow and rain. Reaching the top of Kilimanjaro was never a goal or even an aspiration for me. But that one scary chance I took, led me there. And believe me, the view standing on top of the world was worth every single step it took to get there.
“I’m no angel: I like my glasses of wine and nice dinners. But I think when it comes to sticking to a regime, you really have to want it. I still don’t know what made me want it differently that one time.”
Dearbhla Hynes, 32, is a primary school teacher from Stillorgan, Dublin. After a car accident in 2012, medical experts told Dearbhla she would never run again. In 2015, she ran the Dublin City Marathon.
“Before my accident, I’d go running with friends from work, though I’d moan about it! The accident left me with really bad whiplash and knocked out my back. As soon as the physio told me I’d not run again, I smiled, nodded, walked out of the clinic and said to myself, ‘no way. I’m not accepting this.’
“By February 2013, I kept injuring myself and someone suggested personal training. It didn’t really appeal to me, but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. After the first session, I was so sore all over that even the stairs were a challenge, but it didn’t take long to get really into it. After about six months I’d lost two stone.
“In 2014, I went to watch the Dublin City marathon and texted my sister: ‘I’m going to do it next year’. Everyone thought I’d lost my senses, but it sort of snowballed from there. I gave up an awful lot in terms of my personal life and social life to train, but running for two personal charities became a huge motivating factor for me.
“On the morning of the marathon itself, I was very calm. I’d injured my hip a few weeks previously, but there was no doubt in my mind about doing it. Going through the course I was on such a high. I had over 20 supporters dotted throughout the course, and my sister and nephews ran part of the course with me. The whole day just blew me away.
“I always suggest to others in a similar position to surround yourself with positive people and positivity. It may sound a bit tree-hugger, but it’s so important to have people around that will say, I know you can do this’.”
Aimee Kershaw, 27, is a personal trainer from Rathcoole, Dublin. After crushing her vertebrae in a race-car accident in 2013, Aimee was left in chronic pain and resorted to strength training to alleviate her symptoms. Her blog Train To Reduce Pain can be found on Facebook.
“The two days and nights I spent in hospital after my accident were terrifying. I was told not to move a muscle as I could paralyze myself; the surgery also had a 1 in 200 chance of paralyzing me, too. The odds felt really against me. At the time, I was advised that recovery time was three months, but unfortunately something seemed to go wrong and to this day, I’m still in pain all day. I did a little research and was told that improving my strength would help with the pain. So I gave up the job that had me sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day and decided to train instead. As I got stronger, I managed to take myself off painkillers. I was taking 24 stupidly strong painkillers a day and felt really out of it most of the time. I couldn’t function properly mentally, and was worried about what it was doing to my liver.
“I decided to do a power-lifting competition in July this year, and somehow I placed second. I decided to become a personal trainer because I knew I couldn’t go back to sitting at a desk, but there was another motivation too. I wanted to tell my clients, ‘if I can do what I’ve done, I’ve no doubt anyone can’. Pain can make you feel very vulnerable and affect your lifestyle hugely. I want to be able to empathise with clients who experience chronic pain and say, ‘I understand. I’ve been there. But look at me now. I promise you can do this too’.
“I still have bad days, but whenever that happens I just think about what I’ve been through and I realise I’m lucky to be alive. For that alone I’m very thankful.”