Monday 16 July 2018

Here's what one of the brightest stars of the GAA - hurler Lee Chin - eats in a day

As Healthy Town ambassador, hurler Lee Chin is determined to get Wexford into tip-top shape, writes Celine Naughton

Star hurler Lee Chin on the boardwalk in Wexford. Photo: Patrick Browne
Star hurler Lee Chin on the boardwalk in Wexford. Photo: Patrick Browne

He's one of the brightest stars of the GAA whose outstanding onfield exploits have won him praise as a hurling colossus and even the southeast's answer to Cristiano Ronaldo.

A famously versatile sportsman who has also excelled at Gaelic football and soccer, Wexford hurler Lee Chin is now taking on a new challenge by leading the charge in an initiative to get the people of his native town fit and healthy.

And he's treating his role as this year's Pfizer Healthy Town ambassador, announced today, with just as much passion as he devotes to the clash of the ash.

Now in its seventh year, the Pfizer-sponsored Healthy Town campaign is an annual eight-week programme that aims to make Ireland a healthier nation, town by town.

Supported by Healthy Ireland and the Irish Heart Foundation, previous titleholders include Tullamore, Navan, Athlone, Portlaoise, Wicklow and Kilkenny.

From this September, the focus will be on helping the people of Wexford improve their health and wellbeing with free information seminars, demonstrations, walks and workshops on the themes of heart, mind, body and nutrition.

As far as the Faythe Harriers and Wexford inter-county team stalwart is concerned, his role is not just about lending his name to the initiative, but being an eager and fully committed participant throughout the campaign.

"I'll be hands-on for the entire eight weeks," he promises. "I'll take part in as many events as I can, whether it's cookery lessons, exercise classes, community walks or mental health workshops. It's an inspiring project, and the people of Wexford will be better for it. We're going on a journey together, and I want to get out the message that you're never too young or too old to start leading a healthy, active lifestyle."

The 25-year-old athlete also hopes it will shine a light on the wealth of activities and sporting amenities that locals may not realise they have right on their doorstep.

"I want to encourage Wexford people to engage with the facilities that are here for them," he says. "There are clubs for every age and interest here, from badminton to football, hurling and hockey to swimming, walking, sailing and everything in between.

"These clubs are not only great for keeping physically and mentally fit, they connect people with the community around them. As a kid I joined clubs, and that feeling of being part of something was very special to me. It still is." For those who are not interested in joining a club, there are plenty of other ways to get fit, and you don't have to go to extremes, he says.

"Taking small steps towards a healthier lifestyle makes a big difference, whether it's going for a jog or a cycle in the evenings, or going to the gym. Simple things like this can add years to your life, and lead to a happier, better quality of life."

Lee tries to live as close to a professional lifestyle as he can, which means training three to four hours a day, and curtailing his social life when preparing for a match.

"There are times coming up to a game when I might have to miss a night out with friends or a big family occasion, but it's not a sacrifice, it's a choice. I love GAA, and if you want to excel in sports, you have to be disciplined in every aspect of life, on and off the pitch."

He says he had an idyllic childhood growing up in Wexford, where his parents supported his love of sports.

"I dabbled in football, hurling and soccer, but by the age of 16, I knew that hurling was the sport for me, and everything else was going to take a back seat. I played football for Wexford until 2014, when I switched to hurling."

He lives at home with his Chinese father and Irish mother, and younger sisters Danielle (23), who plays for Wexford football county squads, and Molly (10), who's big into football, soccer and hurling. And while the family runs a popular Asian restaurant, Chin Can Cook, in the town, Lee enjoys a Chinese takeaway no more than once a week.

"My diet is pretty clean," he says. "I have eggs, toast, porridge or a protein cereal for breakfast. Lunch could be a ham sandwich, salad or soup. Depending on the stage of training I'm at, sometimes I wouldn't want to overload with calories, and at other times I'd try to get as many in as possible.

"Dinner is usually pasta, rice or potatoes with veg, and meat, chicken or fish as protein to maintain muscle mass. I would cook for myself, but Mam does most of it and she's a really good cook.

"Crisps are my downfall. Any flavour, it doesn't matter. If they're in a plastic bag, I'll eat them."

Crisps apart, his diet is for the most part exemplary, unlike most of us. According to Janis Morrissey of the Irish Heart Foundation, heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death and disability in Ireland, and the earlier we educate people about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise, the better.

"This year we're focusing on schools as a central hub in Wexford," she says. "We'll have after-school training for teachers from all 14 primary schools in the town. It's a very practical workshop, and for the first time, it includes CPR training, which we've long had for secondary schools, but it's new in the primary school setting.

"There will also be three after-school information sessions for teachers in all five post-primary schools in the area. One will show PE teachers how to move from competitive sports to a more inclusive way of engaging students in physical exercise.

"A second is CPR training for Transition Year co-ordinators, who can in turn train their students, giving a life-saving skill to a new generation. The third session is designed to support teachers in providing healthy food to students in canteens and tuck shops."

There will also be a cookery demonstration for parents presented by chef Catherine Fulvio and dietician Sarah Noone. Other events include information evenings with expert speakers on health-related subjects.

"The most popular topics are mental health, and parenting and family health," says Karen O'Keeffe of Pfizer. "These talks can often be standing room only, so people are advised to arrive early."

The annual campaign also runs free pop-up health checks at public locations and for local community groups. These can help people identify their risk of developing conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, sometimes with surprising results.

"On average, 45pc of those who have attended these health screening facilities at previous Healthy Town events were found to have a risk factor for some condition and advised to visit their GP for further investigation," says Ms O'Keeffe.

Another positive legacy from the Healthy Towns experience is a record of walking groups being sustained long after the programme is finished.

Tara Curran is co-ordinator of the IHF's Slí na Sláinte (Path to Health) programme which will have two Walking Leader training sessions during the Wexford campaign.

"One will be open to the whole community, and there will be a separate session for parents and children," says Ms Curran.

"We train people in how to lead a group safely, encourage group motivation, plan walking programmes and cater to different fitness levels. Wexford has an array of scenic Coillte trains, Fáilte Ireland paths and Slí na Sláinte routes. It's proved to be a very successful community-based activity, and we currently have 2,000 leaders on our database nationwide."

Lee Chin will be leading the community walk in Wexford this year, symbolically encouraging local residents to take that first step towards better health. "If the Healthy Town campaign leads to the people of Wexford becoming more educated about having a healthier lifestyle, that would be very satisfying," he says.

For more information, see healthytowns.ie

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