If ever an example was required of what running has done for a small community, you need look no further than the Fit4Life group based in the east Cork village of Ballintotis.
Following the inaugural staging of a road race in conjunction with East Cork AC in 2011 to raise funds for the local Community Centre, the interest in running began.
The following year, a group led by John Cashman – who, along with Sean Murphy, is the driving force behind the race – started meeting weekly in preparation for the four-mile event and the first few nights saw around seven or eight people turning up to run.
However, as word spread, numbers quickly started to increase to such an extent that in February 2013 a Fit4Life group was launched. Now boasting 85 members of which over half are women, they continue to go from strength to strength.
Louise Casey is the vibrant PRO of the club and the story of how she got involved is typical of many: "I joined myself just over nine months ago; I was running before I joined and had taken part in the race. While there I was introduced to the chairman, Sean Leahy, and it was he who told me about the club. The following week I headed to Ballintotis for training and have never looked back.
"We train twice during the week as a group, Tuesday night we meet in the local community hall and Sunday morning in Killeagh woods. On Tuesday night it's broken into groups – some might do a loop of the four-mile route, others do hills or speed work. It's very flexible and we accommodate all levels," says Louise.
"The woods on a Sunday consist of different loops each week and then of course they like to add some hill work. It's great to have the variation from the roads and everyone enjoys it, even though it's an early start at 8.30am."
Although known as Ballintotis Fit4Life, the group has full Athletics Ireland status with membership cards and have entered teams this year in the Cork Novice and Masters Road Championships.
The social side also plays an important part, as Louise explains: "There is always room for socialising when we train so hard during the year. Last year we held our summer BBQ in the Castlemartyr Resort and our Christmas party in East Cork Golf Club. They were a great success and both nights were fully funded by the club.
The Ballintotis race – which has now reached almost legendary status – is no doubt the focal point for the club, according to John Cashman. "The four miles is very achievable and the fact that the group is going every week means people can join at any stage during the year."
With the commencement of what promises to be a hectic spring and summer season on the roads of Cork, the Ballintotis Fit4Life name will undoubtedly feature on many of the results and one thing is certain – just like the four-mile promotion – their numbers will continue to grow.
"It's a fantastic club, everyone is catered for from beginners to elites," concludes Louise. "There are clubs everywhere, but there is nowhere like Ballintotis Fit4Life."
Health & Living