Sunday 18 March 2018

Meet the people who’ve turned over a new leaf

As the Irish Independent kicks off its New You campaign, Andrea Smith hears three inspirational stories of people who succeeded in starting afresh

Caoimhe O'Neill Jenkins from Killiney who has lost 6 stone through Unislim over 1 year.
Pic Steve Humphreys
Caoimhe O'Neill Jenkins from Killiney who has lost 6 stone through Unislim over 1 year. Pic Steve Humphreys
Transformation: Caoimhe O’Neill-Jenkins from Killiney who has lost six stone through Unislim over one year. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Ah January 1st, here we are again. Hands up if you woke up this morning, possibly slightly hungover, and decided that the old, slightly tattered person groaning back from the mirror was being fecked out the door to make way for the brand new sparkly and improved 2016 version.

There is something about the combination of overindulging during Christmas festivities and the dawning of the new year that makes us take stock of our sorry selves, and we tend to embark on a frenzy of overhauling ourselves, both physically and mentally, at this time of year.

Author Teena Gates who recently completed her first 10k.
Author Teena Gates who recently completed her first 10k.

The determination to lose weight is the most popular new year resolution of all, but with not much else happening to brighten up the grey, dull January days, it can be easy for the resolve to slip as your hand inexplicably finds itself wandering around a leftover selection box.

Many of us decide to get fitter, but with cold, rainy days ahead for the next few months, it can be hard to motivate yourself to get up from the cosy sofa and haul your arse out into the inclement weather.

Then, there are those who decide to embark on a new venture, by taking up a hobby, changing career direction or embracing a new challenge. Easy to do when you are buoyed by the promise of the new year, and just as easy to relinquish as soon as you slip back into your old and predictable routine.

As the Irish Independent kicks off a month-long New You campaign - where you'll find tips on everything from improving you relationships to boosting your career to overhauling your wardrobe - we meet three inspirational people who used the New Year as a starting point to make permanent changes in their lives.

Start-up: Sean Farrell set up a new bike business after he retired from RTE. Photo: Damien Eagers
Start-up: Sean Farrell set up a new bike business after he retired from RTE. Photo: Damien Eagers

Hopefully, their stories will inspire the rest of us.

Caoimhe O'Neill-Jenkins (27) is from Killiney and works in finance and studies part-time. She is married to Derek and they have a son, Callum (3).

"It may sound strange, but I was very content when I was heavier. I'm not going to pretend that losing weight was the be-all and end-all in terms of my happiness, because I was happy when I was overweight too and it didn't define me.

"I'm with my husband for 10 years now, and he never once said that I could do with losing weight, so I was in a comfort zone. I didn't pass on anything, so over Christmas and the new year, I'd overindulge and would have a big Christmas dinner, all the extras and my hand in the sweet tins.

"I knew I should lose weight though, as I'd always averaged about 16 stone, so by the time January came around, I'd think of joining a slimming group and would buy all the gym gear to go walking. That would last three or four weeks and then the novelty would wear off as my commitment wasn't there.

"The turning-point for me was when I was pregnant on my son Callum. I had a difficult pregnancy, and they scanned me at one point and told me that they couldn't see the four chambers of his heart.

"I was panicking, thinking there was something wrong with the baby, but the girl pointed out white lines on the scan and explained that they were layers of fat and it was hard to see through them.

"My heart just sank and it was embarrassing. It wasn't enough to stop me eating though, but then I had a lot of pregnancy-related health problems and suffered postnatal depression.

"When I looked at the little person I had brought into the world, I wanted to be around for him. I was 17 stone after I had Callum and realised that if I lost weight, I'd reduce my chances of diabetes, which is huge in my family, and cancer. People used to say I had a lovely face and it would be great to have the body to match, but for me, that wasn't what it was all about.

"It was difficult because I realised that I'm addicted to food. Everyone thinks that when you're an emotional eater, you must be depressed, but I'd eat when I was sad and would also celebrate with food in happy times.

"I joined a Unislim class in Killiney in July 2013 and it was great, because I'm the type of person who needs support. The recipes were fantastic and nothing is forbidden, but everything is in moderation. It was helpful realising that the other people there also wanted to lose weight, and sharing thoughts and tips was great.

"By the time I got married in February 2014, I had lost four stone and could wear the dress I wanted, but my weight-loss journey didn't end there. I kept going and by the following July, I had lost six stone. I was nine-and-a-half stone, but actually I'd lost too much for my frame, so I'm 10-and-a-half stone now, which is more comfortable.

"I averaged a loss of about a pound-and-a-half per week so it wasn't drastic, and there were weeks where it was difficult and I plateaued or slipped and had a bar of chocolate. On those occasions, I had to tell I myself that Rome wasn't built in a day and I was breaking a lifetime habit.

"I think people who would like to lose weight need to know that need to know that there will be bad weeks and they'll make mistakes, but they just have to keep going and they'll get there."

Unislim has branches nationwide. Tel: 1850 603 020 or see

Sean Farrell (61) is married to Mary and has two grown-up children, Sarah and Daniel. He retired at 57 from the role of head of production resources at RTÉ's television division, and started a bike tour business with colleague Julian Vignoles, former assistant commissioning editor of RTÉ's factual programming.

"I was in my late 50s retiring and wanted to do something to keep myself active and mentally sharp. I originally thought I might teach adult education as I had done a degree at night in mathematics.

"My son was living and studying in Berlin, and while I was there visiting him, I saw these bicycle tours of the city going around. It was a light-bulb moment, and I realised something like that could work back in Dublin.

"My colleague Julian and I always cycled to work and back, and he and I were coincidentally retiring on the same day. He's a real muso and a few months earlier, he dragged me along to a Waterboys gig in the Iveagh Gardens and we went for a pint afterwards.

"I mentioned what I'd seen it in Berlin, and asked him what he thought about us doing it, so we talked it over and agreed to have a go. We finished work on Friday, October 19, 2012, and had our leaving drinks that night in Kiely's in Donnybrook. The following morning, I was up in Halfords in Carrickmines buying eight bikes, and by Monday 22, we were in business with See Dublin By Bike.

It was a relatively simple idea and there wasn't a huge amount of investment involved because we weren't starting Microsoft or anything like that, but it still took a bit of planning.

"Our skills were a good mix, because Julian came from a production/editorial role and I have more of a technical/operational background. He is very good at researching the historical bits and doing the website, and I look after the engineering side and fix the bikes.

"I also look after the finances, even though I would have been the most unlikely person on that end of things.

"We rented a space to park our bikes and store our paraphernalia in a public car park initially, and then spotted the bicycle shop, Café Rothar, on Fade Street.

"We approached them because we thought it would be better to be associated with something on the street, and it was the perfect location. So we're there by sheer good fortune. Our bicycles and gear are stored in their basement, and our tours start and end there. A typical tour would be six to eight people, but we can cater for larger groups.

"You haven't a clue when you start off, and we thought we'd print brochures and bring them around to hotels, but actually the internet is the basis of all of our business.

"It's 99pc made up of tourists and most people check us out via TripAdvisor.

"Anything you have learned in your life comes in useful when you're in business. When was in my 20s, I took a figary to learn German, and now I can give tours in German.

"I was slightly apprehensive at the beginning, but it has worked out very well and it keeps me mentally active and physically fit.

"The only thing I could say to anyone wanting to start a business is to give it a go. You don't know what will happen or how things will work out, but if you're not out there trying, nothing else is going to happen."

Teena Gates (50) is an author, adventurer and blogger at She wrote the book 'One Foot in Front of the Other' to describe her weight- loss and fitness journey from 24 stone.

"I've always wanted to be that person who was able to run from A to B without feeling I was dying after the first couple of steps, and not having that heaving, getting-sick feel I always got when I first started to run.

"I have been trying to run seriously over the last three years, and have done a few couch-to-5ks, but I didn't enjoy the training and never kept it up. I'd go running at night to get up to speed for the run, but I'd be so traumatised once it was over that I wouldn't go anywhere near running for weeks and would then be back at square one. It took me years to figure out that this is not the way to do it and you're meant to keep going.

"Earlier this year, I was on TV3's Midday and was saying that my experience at school put me off. It was all about competition and I thought I couldn't be a runner because I wasn't the fastest, even though I later realised that I have a lot of strength and endurance.

"Presenter Elaine Crowley was saying that she would love to run 10k, so we decided to do a run and document our training progress, calling it 'Couch to Christmas'. Elaine chose the Aware 10k run on December 12 for us, as she wanted to highlight the benefits of being physically active for mental health.

"We asked Irish international ultra-runner, John O' Regan, to mentor us, and did track work with the Le Chéile Athletics Club in Leixlip. We registered with Parkrun, which organises free weekly timed runs and did some 5ks with them at weekends, which was a great help in preparing.

"We ran through Storm Desmond and the rain and cold and it was horrendous at times, but we still did it.

"I'm nearly 15 stone with bad knees so if I can do it, anyone can. The right clothing is important, as are decent shoes, and it's important to have your boobs strapped down. I have humongous 'girls', so they hurt if they're bouncing around.

"I'm slow and I run like a chihuahua - there's a lot of action happening but l'm not covering a lot of ground. I was plodding slowly along a road in Leixlip one night and got into a rhythm and suddenly found I was enjoying it.

"I got emotional because I had never had that feeling before while running, and I'd always wanted it.

"Elaine and I successfully completed the 10k in December, and I was so proud of her and also delighted with myself as I ran most of it. I only had to stop twice to walk up two small hills. I saw that I wasn't the only person struggling as I looked around, and it made me realise that while I've always envied the fast runners and thought that they achieve what they do effortlessly, they're pushing themselves too.

"After we completed the 10k, I felt invincible and thought I could take on the world.

"The feeling transfers to other things in your life and it gives you a real pep in your step. I did a 5k a few days later and immediately signed up for a 12k trail run in March, which I'll probably regret. I have been walking and climbing in recent years, but running has always been my nemesis.

"This experience has taught me a really good life lesson, namely that some things just take time."

Irish Independent

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