Galway City Harriers Club secretary and Fit4Life leader Bernie Kelly is the toast of her club after receiving a certificate and pendant from European Athletics in recognition of her outstanding leadership role for women that has made the GCH Fit4Life group one of the biggest and most successful in the country.
On Sunday last, Bernie, a native of Kilmihil in Clare, who now lives in Inverin in Connemara, had further reason to celebrate when she won top prize in the master women's over-55 age group at the annual Tuam AC 8k road race - finishing in 39.30.
Bernie is a woman who exudes positivity and good humour and since 2007 she has played a pivotal role in developing the Galway City Harriers Fit4Life section into a successful division of the club, which last year boasted 1,083 members - the biggest in the country.
Bernie started her running career shortly after her youngest son Donal was born - almost 25 years ago, but it took her a long time to discover that there would be a welcome embrace for her at Galway City Harriers.
A mother of three, Bernie started out to lose weight and improve her fitness. She soon progressed to jogging and after that found her feet as a runner. It was only when she joined Galway City Harriers in the year 2000 that Bernie started to realise that athletic clubs had much to offer ordinary mid-pack runners.
Her early experience of group training was with the local groups preparing for the annual Women's Mini-Marathon in Dublin. She remembers the early days of the GCH Fit4Life group when she put up posters in the library where she works. There were about 30 sign-ups for that first training session and today the membership has grown to well over the 300 mark. Ms Kelly has also served as GCH club secretary since 2006.
It was for this reason that Bernie was nominated to European Athletics by Athletics Ireland as the Irish Women's leader. "We could think of no better candidate for the award as we know the special effort Bernie Kelly has made over the years in encouraging hundreds of women in Galway to discover a new and invigorating lifestyle through walking, jogging and running," Moira Aston from Athletics Ireland's Competitions Department said.
When she eventually joined Galway City Harriers, Bernie found that being a club member brought more structure and enjoyment to her training.
The GCH Fit4Life membership is broken down into seven groups, ranging from complete beginners to fully fledged runners. Bernie makes a point of not mentioning the word 'run' for new members as she likes the training to evolve gradually.
"People are amazed and delighted when they get to the point of being able to jog 5k and they go home feeling tall and bursting to tell family and friends," Bernie said.
Bernie also believes that the social dimension has equal importance to the physical gains. "I always try to make training a fun experience and it is wonderful to see the strong friendships that begin within the Fit4Life group," she said.
These days there is little need for Bernie to put up posters around Galway looking for new members. Word of mouth has worked wonders for the group.
"Ours is a fitness programme of attraction and when people see us out on the roads around Galway in our high-visibility training tops, enjoying our running and having fun, they want to learn more about how they too can join our merry band," Bernie said.
Over 120 athletic clubs across the country have now successfully adopted the Athletics Ireland Fit4Life Programme and the number is rapidly growing.