Sunday 23 April 2017

‘I want to be the best I can be and nothing will get in my way’: Meet Ireland's youngest bodybuilders

The Irish teens who discovered a passion for competition, despite the pressures that come hand-in-hand with the sport.

Left to Right, Martin (23), Tara (18) and Mark (20) all began training for competitions when they were teenagers
Left to Right, Martin (23), Tara (18) and Mark (20) all began training for competitions when they were teenagers
Tara Ivri (18) from Co. Cork is currently preparing for her Leaving Certificate
Martin Hannon (23) from Co Offaly began training for competition when he was 18
Isibéal Fergus (23) from Dublin has recently delved into the sport
Isibéal Fergus (23) from Dublin has recently delved into the sport
Conor Galgey (18) Co. Laois is currently studying Sports Training and Conditioning
Mark Hodson (20) from Dublin decided to compete in national competitions when he was 19
Tara Ivri (18) from Co. Cork is currently preparing for her Leaving Certificate

Meadhbh McGrath, Patricia Murphy and Graham Clifford

“I want to look great, I want to be the best I can be, and I want to win” - these are the words of one of Ireland's youngest bodybuilders.

In recent years the Irish body-building community has seen a surge in the numbers of young people becoming involved with the aim of competing at a national level. The lifestyle choice is not one that comes without its difficulties and the pressures, including a stringent diet and intense preparation to become “stage ready”, can be overwhelming. However, for these five young people hailing from all corners of the country, the sense of achievement that comes with success at competition much outweighs the sacrifices they make along the way to pursue their passion.

‘Ripped and shredded... that’s not how we’re made to look but it’s only for the show’

Tara Ivri, 18, Co. Cork


I didn’t know much about the sport two years ago until I was training in the gym. I’d been doing it for about a year and some woman said to me ‘God would you ever consider competing?’

I thought I’d really love to do this. I had to convince my parents to allow me to do it because the diet is so strict and training is so strict. It’s hard to see your daughter weighing out every single morsel to the gram. It’s tough going.

I competed in the Nationals last year. I did first-timer bikini. It was the first time the category was introduced so I didn’t know what to expect.

The standard was so high. Some girls were incredible. There were 23 athletes in my category and I cam third. I was delighted. I didn’t expect to even get into the top 15.

Close to the competition, you could say it’s not healthy. You’re putting a lot of strain on your body. Ripped and shredded... that’s not how we’re made to look but it’s only for the show. You have to understand that after the show that’s not the weight you’re going to be and you just have to accept that.”

Now the show is over I am not doing cardio 10 times a week, only twice as I prepare for my Leaving Cert and I hope to study nursing. I still lift four times a week but I think it’s good for your mental health. It gives you a break from the study and get away from everything for an hour.

I’d love to compete internationally some day but I don’t know if I’ll make it. It’s an absolute dream but who knows.


'But I want to look great. I want to be the best I can be and I want to win'

Conor Galgey, 18, Co. Laois


Starting off, I was a very small lad. I had a skinny, athletic build. When I started seeing the results, it really builds your confidence so you constantly want to do more and build more.

It’s helped me across the board, I feel more confident at work and in social situations with my friends as well.

I’m studying Sports Training and Conditioning, and I’m a bit of an oxymoron at the moment, I also work in McDonalds.

Currently I’m in preparation for my next competition, so I train six times a week with weights, and then I do cardio which would be running or sprinting in the morning time, at least six hours before I do my weights.

Mentally, I’m always kind of thinking about what I’m eating. I look at food and think, can I eat that? If I eat that, what can’t I have for the rest of the day? If I miss a workout if I want to go out somewhere, how long will I have to work out later on to make up for it?

The competition is 14 weeks away. This year, I started a lot earlier, about 25 weeks out from the competition, making my training a lot more serious, cleaning up my diet, never missing a workout.

It is tough sometimes, especially not drinking, because you have to sacrifice a good few things. The next time I will be going out will be my birthday, and that’s not until July. At 18 years old, it’s summer time and the weather’s lovely, you want to go out and enjoy yourself. But I want to look great, I want to be the best I can be, and I want to win. That’s the goal I set myself, and nothing will get in my way. I love my life, and I love what I do.


'At competition, if you don’t win or don’t place that’s your fault'

Mark Hodson, 20, Dublin


I said I was going to compete when I was only 19 and I suppose that’s young enough. My first show was in April when I had just turned 20. It’s all about the discipline and your character. How you cope... it depends on the person.

At competition, if you don’t win or don’t place that’s your fault. You’ve done something wrong along the way and you just weren’t good enough compared to the other athletes. You don’t know what’s going to turn up so you always have to keep that in mind. As good as the package you bring is you don’t know how good other people are going to be on the day.

Compared to most other sports it does cost a lot of money.

People say to me. How do you afford the food and the supplements and I ask them how do they afford to go out every weekend?

They spend their money on what they enjoy and we spend our money on our hobby.


'I think to go beyond a national level you need to be a genetic freak'

Martin Hannon, 23, Co Offaly


I didn’t do it because I was getting bullied or had confidence issues. It was just a sport to me from the start. I tried other sports but I found I just took to bodybuilding pretty well so I kept with it then.

When you’re competing, if you’ve put the work in, you will be confident on the day. If you go through the prep and you’re slacking off and having cheat days you’re not going to have the confidence on the day.

I believe there are a lot of people in their mid to late teens are taking illegal substances in an effort to get big overnight but the only secret to success is years of hard training and good eating patterns. If you build your body using drugs from the start how are you going to look when you come off them? I think the pressure to take those substances can come from social media. It all looks so cool especially at a young age, but upsetting your body's natural hormones is detrimental.

My goal is just to be a good national competitor. I think to go beyond that you need to be a genetic freak which I know I’m not. I just want to win more national shows and be happy with that. I’ll take it one show at a time.


'Competition day is almost like the Debs but with way less clothes'

Isibéal Fergus, 23, Dublin


I was someone who literally hated exercise. I skipped PE, I hated running. I did team sports in my early teens, then stopped, so I wasn’t athletic at all. I had kind of given up on ever being really skinny or petite, and through Instagram I became exposed to different type of female bodies – people who were tall or broad but still looked incredible and strong. I was like, look, if I’m never going to be a size six I can at least try to make my body the best it can be.

I’ve only done one show, I did it last year. In hindsight, I definitely wasn’t in the condition I should have been, and the standard surprised me, but it was a learning curve. I learned so much for the experience. I’ll probably do another show in 12 weeks. For me, it’s a way to give my training focus.

The competition day, everybody is so wrapped up themselves. It’s almost like the Debs but with way less clothes – everyone has their tan done, your nails done, your make-up, you’re super excited and put so much work into it. You meet some really amazing people, it’s a great place to meet people who are interested in the same things as you. I even go to shows that I’m not competing in.

I have gone on dates and guys have said 'You’re not going to get any bigger, are you?'

There is a little bit of that, but I wouldn’t say there’s a stigma.

There can be a bit of nastiness around girls in the gym and a little bit of slut-shaming can go on. I’ve noticed it recently and I don’t think it’s okay – if someone thinks they look good and they’re in shorts and a crop top and they’re training hard, power to them.

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