Monday 26 June 2017

Not your average New Year's resolution

As the nation once again vows to cut down on booze and lose weight, our reporter speaks to people who set themselves unusual goals - and saw them through

Julie Dennehy pushed herself to conquer her lifelong fear of heights and climb Mount Everest
Julie Dennehy pushed herself to conquer her lifelong fear of heights and climb Mount Everest
Mike Jones resolved to embark on a 10km kayak race

Arlene Harris

Here we go again - another year has rolled around and we are all busy declaring our lofty resolutions. Losing weight, cutting down on alcohol and quitting smoking are always top of the list, and while many fall off the wagon before the end of the month, some of us will stay the distance.

Others go the extra mile and rather than undertaking the same resolutions as the rest of the country, opt to put their efforts into something a little different.

Among that group, the following four people set themselves some unusual goals last year and, impressively, all managed to stick to their guns.

Rachel Ray from Dublin is a strategic marketing planner. Her job requires her to be well read but she found she was spending an increasing amount of time online. Last January, she resolved to read at least one book a month for the whole year.

Mike Jones resolved to embark on a 10km kayak race
Mike Jones resolved to embark on a 10km kayak race

"My head was completely wrecked from screens - it was eating into sleep time and making me feel unrested and lacking in direction," she says. "Then, I remembered that my favourite thing as a kid was reading - I really loved it - so I wanted to get that feeling back."

Once having made the decision, the 29-year-old got started in earnest and before long, she was really enjoying her new-found hobby.

"I made a list from my 'pile of shame' - the gigantic pile of books lurking around the apartment - which I continued to buy, but just didn't read," she admits. "I divided them into fiction and non-fiction and got started, originally planning to read 15 as one or two books a month wasn't a very high demand.

"But I ended up reading more and also getting a lot of audiobooks - which I now listen to on long walks, doing housework and when I can't sleep. I've really enjoyed my resolution and feel much better for it, so will definitely continue to read more in 2017."

Mike Jones from Killaloe in Co Clare undertook an ambitious resolution in 2016 when he decided to embark on a 10km kayak race. Although a seasoned adventure seeker and founder of the guided tours company MyNextAdventure.ie, the 36-year-old had never taken on anything of this distance and had to put in a lot of preparation.

"Although I have been kayaking for years, I had never competed like this before so had to build my fitness and learn how to stay upright in a rather unstable racing kayak," he says.

"The race itself was on a very windy day and, as most of my training had been in sheltered water, this increased the challenge significantly. But I completed close to my target time which was great, as was being part of a group with a common goal who supported and cheered each other as they crossed the finish line.

"I will definitely be looking to hone my racing skills in 2017 as well as planning to spend some nights under the stars."

Cork woman Julie Dennehy also followed through on her resolution last year, even though it meant pushing herself to conquer a life-long fear.

"I've always had a fear of heights but after having recently got fitter, I decided last January to take things a step further and face my phobia head on, by climbing to base camp at Mount Everest," says the 32-year-old.

"I work 13-hour shifts as a nurse, so I forced myself to exercise afterwards - I knew the challenge would be really tough so I had to be able to push myself.

"Once I thought I would be up for it, I booked a space with an adventure company called Earth's Edge and set off last October for three weeks in Nepal."

Although concerned that she wouldn't reach her goal, Julie not only reached base camp but climbed two more peaks before setting off on the long trek home - and returned home with an appetite for more adventure.

"I was so delighted with myself afterwards," she says. "It was a bit surreal, but given my original fear of heights, I was very proud.

"I think people should set themselves tough but interesting challenges, as we all need to push ourselves a little bit - this year, I am hoping to go to Kilimanjaro and have signed up to learn how to kayak as I'm determined to get the most out of life."

Sticking to resolutions can be difficult for any of us and mothers, in particular, are often far too busy to follow them through. Laura Erskine of parenting websites mummypages.ie says that while many make plans in January, most just can't keep up.

"Our mums typically have great intentions when it comes to New Year's resolutions, but struggle to stick to them even just a couple of weeks later," she says.

But Suzin Staunton, who has one son Callan (4), showed great resolve last year as she decided to abandon 'no' and accept any and every opportunity which came her way - resulting in a series of thrilling adventures.

"I decided 2016 was going to be my 'Sod it' year," says the 32-year-old. "I wanted to try new things rather than talk myself out of them. If it had the potential to make me or others feel good, then I was going to do it.

"Firstly, I started using deadlifts at the gym and over a few weeks, built it up to 100kg. I didn't realise how heavy this was until someone asked me if I wanted to enter a powerlifting competition.

"I laughed it off initially, but then said, 'Sod it, why not?' The competition took place in February when I lifted 122.5kg and won a gold medal in my category, which felt amazing.

"Having suffered from depression in the past, my mood was really elevated, my confidence was coming back and I felt brilliant - the best I had felt in a long time."

Following her big win, Suzin decided to carry on in the same vein and followed a lifelong dream of going to Disneyland Paris, booking tickets before she could change her mind. This set her on a path of ticking more places off her 'to-see' list, which also took her to Amsterdam.

"Then, I discovered that someone I knew was doing the Hell and Back obstacle-course run in September in aid of charity and, once again, I said 'Sod it' and signed up - and on September 10, I took part in a 10km trek through Hell. It was so tough, and boy was I in pain afterwards, but it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life," she says. "I felt I had achieved something huge."

To round off her eventful year, the Dublin woman took part in a TV advert and is now expecting her second child. She says her resolution for 2016 has become her mantra for life.

"For 2017, my resolution is to continue on this path. It made me happy this year, so why change it?"

Irish Independent

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