The first thing that hits you about Erica Brennan is how amazingly lean and toned she is, damn her! She's also ambitious, smart and confident, which is possibly why she was able to open her own gym at only 21.
"I gave up drinking and going out when I was 19," she says. "I knew I wouldn't be taken seriously by clients if I was out locked in Howth every night. I didn't mind, although all of a sudden, you're no fun. I worked long hours as I wanted to create something that was mine, so I was completely fuelled by that. I'm not a recluse and do go out but I watch it. And while I didn't drink for five years, I have the odd one now if I'm out for a special occasion."
Turning 25 next month, Erica lives happily in Howth with her mum Carmel and stepfather Brian. She has a blended family, as Brian has a daughter, Laila, 28, while her father Jim also has three older girls, Andria, Nicola and Jackie, from his first marriage.
"My parents separated when I was a baby," she says. "I saw my dad every Sunday, and Mum met Brian when I was seven. My grandparents, Eileen and Tom, were a huge part of my life, and I was devastated when they died in 2009, three months apart."
At that time, Erica was 18 and a retail management student at DIT. Her broken heart wasn't in her studies, and she failed her exams and dropped out of college.
"I started going to the local gym to work off some steam, and that's how my career in fitness began," she says. "I was never fit and hated sports in school, but I found I loved the gym. One of the instructors saw my enthusiasm and asked if I had ever considered training, and that was it."
Erica became a pilates instructor and quickly realised that she had a passion for helping people. She went on to complete courses in personal training, fitness instructing and nutrition. She was working freelance for a couple of years, and decided in 2011 to rent the lease on her old gym in Howth, which had closed down. She had very little equipment initially, but saved and bought pieces as she could afford them as she sensibly didn't want to get into debt. "I used to get the clients to run up and down the hill," she laughs. "I just did things that would make them fitter without investing loads of money initially, and as it grew, I bought more things. Now I have a fully-stocked gym and own all the equipment. I became a boss to staff who were older than me, but I wanted to run a business and work with people so it went from strength to strength."
Last year, an opportunity arose for Erica to move into a two-storey building around the corner, which was amazing because it provided her with a fresh slate. There's a fully-equipped gym downstairs, and a hot yoga studio and blow dry bar upstairs. "I made all my major mistakes in the first premises, and thankfully, it's going great and the atmosphere and staff are brilliant," she says. "It's so rewarding when people get good results and you have helped them to achieve that."
When it comes to inspirational role models, Erica looks to her mother Carmel. She spent 24 years working with Aer Lingus, starting as an air hostess, became an interior designer, and now has two successful boutiques called ellen b. "Mum worked as a cabin crew manager when I was small, and would be in work at 6am so she could collect me at the school gates," she says. "We kill each other sometimes because we're so alike. We can both be a bit controlling, although I prefer to refer to it as having leadership skills. Mum is a big softy, and she sees the good in everyone. She's amazing and we get on so well."
Erica also has another business, and is a 'senior eagle manager' with Forever Living Products, which sells aloe vera-based items. She has been doing that for four years, and works hard at motivating her team, which she loves. When it comes to romance, she is currently dating her best friend's brother who lives in the UK. It's very fresh and a new situation, but is going very well so far.
While she was never overweight, Erica says she was soft and had no muscle tone as a teenager, and found that her body responded well to weight training. "I'm not about being skinny and am more concerned about keeping my body fat low," she insists. "I like the strong, lean, muscular look. As a teenager, I would have had a lot of body issues and had to work a lot on that. I do a lot of meditation and read positive books, and it genuinely works."
The Gym Howth,
1a, St. Lawrence Road, Howth, Dublin 13