Saturday 29 July 2017

'I'm in better shape at 56 than I was in my teens'

Lucy Moloney, 56, says a new fitness regime helped her manage vertigo. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Lucy Moloney, 56, says a new fitness regime helped her manage vertigo. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Frank Greally, giving the thumbs up sign
Siobhan O'Donnell, 50, completed her first marathon in 2011
Stefano Manassero

Kathy Donaghy

Being fit and healthy is something most of us aspire to. But often we find excuses as to why we can't be the best version of ourselves. Our four interviewees today, ranging in ages from 50 to 65, show that age is no impediment to fitness. Their motivational message - anyone can do it if they really want to - is powerful stuff, and their inspirational stories show that the only thing stopping us, is ourselves.

FRANK GREALLY (65)

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Frank Greally, giving the thumbs up sign
 

Frank Greally's name is synonymous with running. At 65 years of age he still edits Irish Runner magazine. After a few years hiatus from running, he is back with a new pep in his step and has fallen in love with running all over again.

Growing up in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, Frank, pictured above giving the thumbs up sign,  got into running through a boxing club. While he professes he wasn't much of a boxer, he proved a natural when it came to the runs the boxers would do as part of their training.

His junior Irish record for the 10,000 metres still stands - he ran it in 30 minutes 17 seconds on the track at Santry Stadium in 1970 before embarking on a scholarship to East Tennessee University in 1972, where he spent four years.

In his book, Running Full Circle, Frank talks about the pain of returning to Ireland and feeling a sense of failure at not living up to his running potential. But in his years of running he'd built himself a special place within the Irish running community, and Irish Runner magazine was born in 1980.

He says his running in the early 1980s was sporadic until he trained for the Cork Marathon in 1987, and ran the New York Marathon in 1988 as well as some road races.

"It was sporadic - I'd run for three months and then I'd convince myself I was too busy. When I was 50, I got back running again but I let it slip again," he says.

It was two years ago when he was running around with his granddaughter Hayleigh, who was then five-years-old, that he had a realisation. "She said to me 'Grandad, my mam said you used to be a great runner. Why don't you run anymore?' I thought about that at the time and I asked myself why was I not running," says Frank.

A month later at a celebration dinner held by a running club in Dunleer, Co Louth, organisers announced that it would be 45 years since Frank had set his famous junior record on Santry Track. They set him a challenge to run for 30 minutes and 17 seconds - his record time on that day in 1970 - to mark the occasion. "That challenge got to me - I knuckled down and it was the best thing to happen to me in years."

A big event was organised to mark the occasion, with the centrepiece being Frank's run. "I call it my gratitude run - I ran close to half the 10,000 metres in the time. But it got me back on a roll. I found that I loved running again," he says.

From there the running shoes were firmly on again, with Frank taking on a series of 10k runs, and while he hoped to be ready for the Dublin Marathon last month, an old knee injury kept him out. However, instead of being despondent, Frank says he is more than grateful for what he has got out of running again. "I have my love and passion for running back. Physically and mentally there's a pep in my step and I'm part of the wider running community again. Nowadays I go to a run and I put on my gear and join in. It doesn't matter how long it takes me," says Frank.

"I think I've prompted a lot of people to do something in their own lives. A lot of people give up when they retire. When my own father stopped working, he started to decay," he says.

"There's massive fulfilment in getting back running for me. I feel like I'm reclaiming my spirit as well. I've reclaimed the spirit of the kid who ran around the school yard. I have the innocence of the young fella who tore off around Santry Stadium in 1970 back," he says.

STEFANO MANASSERO (53)

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Stefano Manassero
 

When Stefano Manassero tells you that the words 'I can't' don't exist in his vocabulary, you have the distinct impression that he means business. The 53-year-old sports therapist who lives in Swords, Co Dublin, is living proof of the saying 'practice what you preach', and says he is motivated to be the fittest and healthiest version of himself for his clients.

Growing up in Venice, he was crazy about football. After a brief stint in the army, he began working in a restaurant in his native city. He remembers going to the gym for the first time at the age of 21 and immediately becoming hooked. Within a short space of time, he was training to be a gym instructor and began educating himself in the nutrition and science behind the training, as well as learning English.

A few years later he met a Dublin girl called Adrienne, who would later become his wife. He moved to Dublin in 1989 and trained as a massage therapist and became a tutor in anatomy and physiology and nutrition. All the while he has been training solidly, competing in international bodybuilding competitions and named Mr Ireland in 1994 and Mr Ireland Over 50 in 2014.

Stefano says he still works hard on his physique today, but now at the age of 53, he says he goes for more "quality" training. "I used to spend two to three hours a day training. Now I spend about 45 minutes in the gym five days a week.

"I work out only one body part every day. For example one day I'd spend 45 minutes on my shoulders, the next my back and the next my legs. Twice a week I do a little bit of cardio - high-intensity interval training for about 15 minutes. It's very high intensity but that is the best way to burn fat and speed up your metabolism. My body responds really well to that," he says.

With 30 years experience in the gym, Stefano says he knows what works for him and he listens to his body. "The body adapts all the time so every few weeks I change things up. I may change my training routine or diet or sometimes I change both," he says.

While he still competes, Stefano says it's not a good idea to be competition-ready all year round. "Instead of seeing improvements, you'd get injured," he says.

Eating well and eating clean is also a big part of his raison d'etre. It's something he's tried to instil in his clients and in his children Jason (26), Serena (22) and Arianna (14). Growing up in Italy, where his mother cooked every meal from scratch, Stefano developed his own love of cooking and of following the Mediterranean diet.

Because he's on the go seeing clients, Stefano says he tends to prepare meals in advance so he doesn't end up making poor food choices. Lunch might typically be a bowl of rice with turkey and seasonal vegetables.

"I would say to people never shop when you are hungry - you only buy the wrong things. It's impossible - every cash register has treats beside them. Sooner or later you give in and then you start doing that every day," he says.

"Over the last 20 years I've learned to listen to my body. I have to practice what I preach. My clients keep me motivated. If I look the part it's easier to teach. I want to be an inspiration for people. If they see me at 53 being fit and looking fit, it becomes an inspiration for them."

Stefano says the first step to getting fit can often be the hardest for people. "It can take some people years to take that first step. But if you really want to make changes, you can. You have to take that decision for yourself. There is no such thing as 'I can't'. There is only 'I don't want to try'. I say to my clients 'Do you want to make changes?" This doesn't come to you. You have to do the work," he says.

SIOBHAN O'DONNELL (50)

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Siobhan O'Donnell, 50, completed her first marathon in 2011
 

When Siobhan O'Donnell crossed the finish line in this year's Dublin Marathon, the special commemorative centenary medal was the icing on the cake in her sporting year. Having turned 50 in March, Siobhan had her sights firmly set on the marathon, even though her work as spokeswoman for Dublin Airport kept her so busy that she didn't get to do all the training she wanted to do.

Her list of sporting achievements, from Olympic distance triathlons, half Ironman and full Ironman, not to mention eight marathons, might leave most of us gasping for breath. But Siobhan is keen to emphasise that with a bit of work, anyone can do the same, regardless of their age.

She says while she was always reasonably fit, it wasn't until about 10 years ago that she really upped her game. "I suppose I was aware of coming into middle age and the idea of middle age spread is in the back of your mind. It is something I was conscious of as I would have been prone to putting on weight," says Siobhan.

"I remember talking to a girl in work who had totally turned her life around from being overweight. I had great admiration for her and her enthusiasm was infectious. I thought, 'I'll have a bit of that'. I started training with some people in work.

"A few of us were training to do a 10k run in the Phoenix Park. But in the space of three months I got two stress fractures in my feet. My body just wasn't used to all the running. I was telling someone about it and they asked if I'd ever considered triathlon," she says.

Siobhan remembers going to watch a sprint triathlon in 2010, and being blown away by the competitors. "I couldn't get over what I was seeing - all these people coming to the beach and racking their bikes, getting into wetsuits - I said 'I want to be one of them'."

Siobhan did her first Sprint Triathlon - where competitors swim 750 metres, cycle 20k and run 5k - in September of that year in Summerhill Co Meath. "I was absolutely delighted. I couldn't believe I could do all these three things. I was so thrilled."

She joined Fingal Triathlon Club and moved on to the Olympic distance triathlon. This involves a 1.5k swim, 40k on the bike and a 10k run. Having completed four of these in swift succession, she moved her own personal goalposts again and set her sights on a half Ironman in Galway in 2011. This involved an increase of distances over the three events again - a 1.9k swim, a 90k bike and a 21k run. It was the first of three half Ironman events she would do.

With all the training she had under her belt, Siobhan decided to train for the 2011 Dublin Marathon and the Connemara Marathon the following spring. It was while training for Connemara that she met her partner Tony, an ultra-marathon runner who turned 50 last October.

In July 2013 Siobhan undertook the full Ironman in Frankfurt, Germany - enduring a 3.8k swim, a 180k bike ride and a full marathon at the end. "At the minute I'm just running and doing a bit on the bike. I'm only 10k from the airport so I can sometimes run into work or run home to Malahide. I leave clothes in work and I can have a shower in work," she says.

"I'm really hoping someone says 'There's Siobhan O'Donnell - if she can do it, I can do it'. I would say to people you have to want it. You meet people and they say that they'd never do a marathon. But I'll say to them: 'If you want to do it, you can do it'.

"For this year's marathon, I went through all the reasons for not doing it and for doing it. I really wanted that medal. Being 50 in the centenary year made it very special. I don't feel 50. Training gives a different dimension to your life. It keeps you healthy in your mind. You can eat what you want as well. I hope I can inspire other people. If you can inspire one other person to go out there and do something, that's really great," she says.

"The real motivation is to stay healthy and fit. It gives you a better mindset. You never go out for a run and come back feeling worse. It always lifts you," says Siobhan.

LUCY MOLONEY (56)

A three-year battle with vertigo prompted 56-year-old Lucy Moloney to get fitter and stronger than she'd ever been. Now she's hoping she can inspire others to get fit and be active in their middle ages too.

Lucy's calm and gentle conversational tone masks a steely determination to be the best version of herself possible. The mother-of-three, originally from Waterford but living in Dublin, had all but forgotten the fit young woman of her youth after her experience with vertigo left her floored.

Lucy had been a keen athlete in her teens and 20s. She even met her husband Paul, a fellow runner, while out on a training session in Cork. The couple got married in 1987 and had two boys Kieran (27) and Ian (24) and a daughter Sophie (16). While keeping fit was still important to Lucy, she didn't put herself under pressure. She recalls waking up one morning in 2010 and not being able to stand up. She was diagnosed with vertigo, and says she went to a really bad place because she could literally do nothing. The once super-fit athlete remembers holding on to her husband even when she went for a walk.

Between Christmas 2010 and May 2011, Lucy began seeing a neuro-muscular therapist. With a mix of what she calls encouragement and tough love, she says he advised her to get back to running. Slowly but surely, she found her feet again.

Shortly afterwards she joined a gym in Sandyford, and found the gym programme transformed her life. An individual workout programme was designed for her. Her nutrition was examined. Every four weeks her weight-training programme was changed. Through hard work and determination, Lucy worked consistently. Six years later, she's in the shape of her life.

"I'm very consistent. If I have something on during the day, I'll be in the gym at 6am. I'm in the gym six days a week. Every day is different and Sunday is my day off. I'm very driven now.

"This keeps my mind occupied. If I go through an odd little dizzy spell, I shake it off. I've never had anything like the severity of the vertigo I had again and I feel very fit now," says Lucy.

"For my age I feel strong. I feel I'm in better nick now that when I was a runner."

When she's not in the gym, Lucy uses a device called a Speed Board to work on her mobility and flexibility. Her diet is clean, and she supplements it with a protein shake and fish oils. However, she says she still loves the odd glass of wine.

Lucy is now taking her own fitness to the next level - she recently did a boxercise course to teach classes and is in the process of learning to become a personal trainer.

"Exercise has given me a whole new lease of life. I say to people 'your health is your priority'. I took my health for granted. It's really possible for you to be fit and strong," she says.

"I want to be able to give something back. What motivates me is not only keeping myself in top nick but I'd like to help people. I want to improve my personal bests in fitness terms, improve my flexibility and mobility and continue my battle with vertigo," says Lucy.

"For me the effort has all been worth it. I would say to other women to make time for themselves, to get on a programme and stick with it. You will see the changes," she says.

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