Building her body & mind
Eva Butterly tells John Manning how body building helped transform her scoliosis condition and her brush with fame on hit TV series, 'Game of Thrones'
Actress, model, entertainer and body-builder would be a lot of strings to anyone's bow but when you consider that Rush woman, Eva Butterly has achieved all this since being diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 12, then you know you are talking to someone with a remarkable story to tell.
At the age of 12, Eva was told her spine was in danger of 'collapsing in on itself' but 14 years later, the young Rush woman has had a life fuller than most, working as an actress and model overseas and even winning a part on the global phenomenon that is Game of Thrones.
But the Rush resident is back home now after more than four years living in Canada and is embarking on a wholly different adventure in the world of competitive body-building which she credits with having a dramatic effect on the 'symmetry' of her back that has been twisted by scoliosis, and with boosting her mental health.
When we meet Eva, she is just a few days away from her first body building competition in Derry. She has lifted weights for six years but it was only this year she began to entertain the notion of doing it competitively.
In the midst of a difficult year in her personal life, the Rush woman just could not shake an idea out of her fiercely determined head.
Eva explained: 'This year I was going through a period of wondering what I'm doing with my life and I wasn't really sure what direction to go in and it was kind of stressing me out. But through all of that, I just kept going to the gym and doing my thing and then I kept seeing these people online doing competitions and stuff and it just sparked an interest in me.
'It looked like a lot of work but I couldn't stop thinking about it and people were advising me not to do it, telling me it's hell and you have to starve yourself and all of this. But I just couldn't stop thinking about it and I'm the type of person that once I have an idea in my head, I have to do it otherwise I'll regret it. So, I just bit the bullet and decided to do it.
'I'm entering in the novice bikini section and the regular bikini section too and there's four poses you have to hit and they are designed to show off your musculature in the best way possible. It's about stage presence as well and how you interact with the audience and how comfortable and natural you are.'
So how many hours is she spending in the gym? Eva said: 'Quite a lot - too many. It has been a 14-week training process. It started out five days a week doing about two hours of weightlifting focusing on different muscle groups. Then as I came closer to competition it was bumped up to six days a week and weights get slightly smaller with more reps and you add in cardio as well.
'That's called the cutting phase where you trim the excess fat to reveal the muscle you have built up. It is a lot of effort and you have to love it.'
Using a makeshift gym in a shed at home and visiting FlyFit gym in Swords, Eva has been preparing intensively for competition for the last three months but as she got into the training, she started to notice it was having a dramatic effect on her scoliosis and she was achieving a symmetry to her back that she had once thought impossible.
Eva explained: 'I noticed it from taking progress photos. You do that after training sessions just to see how you are coming along and I kind of take them monthly just to see.
'I noticed in the second months that my lats were starting to come in a bit. They are the muscles on the side of your back that create the illusion of an hour glass figure so I started working the one on my left side which started to even up the hump I have on this side and in the second month I noticed it was starting to take that hour glass shape.
'It didn't surprise me but it wasn't something I was thinking about - I was just going through the process I was given. It was just a very nice by-product of the training process I was going through.'
Eva wants to be an advocate for fitness and weight training and share with the world, the positive effects her training has had on her physical as well as her psychological well-being.
She said: 'In five years from now, I want to be able to inspire people to be the best versions of themselves that they can possibly be.
'This journey has had such a positive affect on me, not just physically but mentally. I guess, throughout this prep there have been some things that have happened in my life that have been pretty damaging on an emotional level, as we all go through and at points I thought about packing it in.
'There was a really low point this year but I just kept going and kept trudging through and even when my calories were low my energy was low, and I was feeling like sh** and I was in a bad place mentally, I kept going to the gym and eventually I felt a little bitter and I would see the progress in my body and it gave me more motivation to keep going.
'I would say it really just taught me to keep trucking on even when things are terrible. Whatever is going on in your life, just keep going and don't give up. That's the biggest message I've learned through all of this and I want to be able to share that with other people and show them it is worth it. Just grind through it and you will feel like a million dollars afterwards.'
She is so in love with her new lifestyle, that Eva has put her life-long obsession with acting on the back burner a little bit. She is still applying for acting roles here and there but is for now at least, focused on fitness.
She has fond memories of the other big adventure in her life when she took off alone at 21 to Canada, one of the largest markets in the world for television and film, to work as an actor.
She said: 'I have wanted to be an actor since I've been a small child. I have grown up in performing arts schools and musicals, I worked with Rush Musical Society and I was a member of the Little Duke Theatre up in Drogheda as well. I went to college in DIT and studied Drama and Performance there. I moved over to Vancouver then for four years when I was 21 and only moved back here quite recently. That move (to Canada) was to get involved in the film and tv industry but then through a lot of exploration and discovery I found that might not be the path I ultimately want to go down and I feel my passion is now more so for health and fitness and perhaps helping other people discovering themselves through that medium as well.'
Describing her time in Canada, Eva said: 'It went well. I got an agent and did some voice-overs and commercials and got work as a model and did several other jobs but in the end, I wasn't going to stay there forever because it was so far from home and there was something about the Irish thing that you just don't find overseas.'
Her most well known acting appearance was in two episodes of season six of the global phenomenon that is Game of Thrones.
Eva described the experience, saying: 'Game of Thrones came about when I was 24 and I got an agent in Ireland. I had come back to Ireland for just a bit of a holiday and I picked up an agent here and there was a casting for Game of Thrones and I was very fortunate to get that. I was episode five and six of season six of it. It was huge by then. They flew us out to Spain and we shot in Northern Ireland and it was an amazing experience.'
As she embarked on a new chapter in life in the business of inspiring others with physical challenges to take on exercise and fitness, she described how weight training had come to mean more to her than she ever imagined.
She said: 'It grew into something else for me. Weight training was something I leaned on when I was going through difficult times in my life for whatever reason. I always knew that when I went into the gym, I was guaranteed I would come out feeling much better than when I went in because you get that release of endorphins. I don't think I could do without it now - it's so good for your mental health. It's like a form of meditation - you get into that zone and you are concentrating your mind on muscle movement and focusing all of your attention on contracting a particular muscle. It's a very focused sport.'