I was recently chatting to a friend of mine, who runs his own successful business and the topic of websites came up and more specifically how everyone has a story to tell. He was encouraging me to tell me story, as I still remain fairly anonymous, even on my own website.
I hate talking about myself but I can see the importance of sharing my experiences so far, as it would go someway to explaining the philosophy behind SDSC and may allow me to connect with people more and show that I have gone through numerous ups and downs and various changes over the years and I’m still here moving forward.
So from the beginning – my introduction to sports started out like a lot of Irish boys my age, with the Football (Soccer) boom driven by the Italia 90 World Cup. Growing up where I did, you had to be good at football or were essentially an outcast! So it was a duty to become good at football – although being a Spurs fan in the late 80’s and early 90’s did make me an easy target for my peers!
Football was my main love for over a decade and it would have been my first career choice but my knees and one or two severe growth spurts as a teenager meant my body had other ideas.
At my peak I was playing with Home Farm semi-professionally and got myself on the Irish Universities team – where I was selected for the squad to compete at the student Olympics in Beijing in 2000. Unfortunately due to an administration error out of my control, I was unable to go and a combination of extreme frustration and disappointment over the situation (and the fact I was probably never going to achieve my target of being a full professional), I ‘retired’ and decide to follow a very distant plan B – college and ‘doing computers’ because thats what everyone else was doing. Needless to say this journey did not last very long. I have never been able to stick something out if I wasn’t enjoying it.
So in a sporting context, I was at a loose end and directionless but that would change, when on a night out in Dublin, another life changing moment occured. I was assaulted by 3 guys – looking back it was nothing serious, just a few cuts and bruises (I learnt I could take a punch!) but my ego was hurt for a long time afterwards. I always had a fascination with martial arts, thanks to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies but I never had the time to commit to training as football was always my priority. After that incident I decided the time was right to begin my martial arts journey.
So I began training Taekwondo and during this time I met a guy who was a few years my senior and one day he saw me bumbling my way through the weights area in the gym and offered some much needed guidance. Very soon I was his shadow in the place, learning as much from him as I could and he then planted the seed in my head that maybe I should get qualified to become a trainer. I believe that certain people drop into your life for a reason – no matter how short the time and this was one of those people I was meant to cross paths with.
I had never really thought I was capapable of doing such a thing as becoming a fitness trainer at that time – mainly due to the fact I could have been mistaken for a barbell and therefore presumed nobody would listen to any advice I had to dispense. Regardless of any insecurities, I became qualified – the only time I ever got a distinciton in my life, as it was probably the only exam I enjoyed taking.
So late 2003 I dropped out of college and got myself a job in a commercial gym. Taekwondo was still ticking along, I was training daily and progressing through the belts at a steady pace but I felt something was missing. I wasn’t getting the same buzz from it as I did Football and my original motivation to train for self defence wasn’t being fulfilled in my opinion. Even though I was not far off being a black belt, I still felt as though what I knew would not save me in a ‘real’ altercation similar to the one I had been in previously. Ironically now, I think the only thing that would save me against 3 assailants is sprinting and I would be quite confident of my ability to ‘fight’ these days.
Around this time there was whispers of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor in town putting down challenges to any martial artist in the country and I was intrigued by this – especially when I discovered the guy in question wasn’t a 6 foot 4 monster but a modest 5 foot 7 guy proclaiming techique would trump brute force. This promise sounded like exactly what I was looking for and championed what I believed to be the fundamental philosophy behind martial arts.
I ventured out to a small garage in Phibsoboro on the north side of Dublin and took my first lesson and the rest is history – I got beaten up and loved it! And the adrenaline from a real fight was there but without the raw aggression and fear.
As more time passed I began to hit a wall in commercial gym life. There was nowhere to go really in terms of career advancement. I began to look around at friends in the computer industry and see how well everyone was doing at the time and decided maybe it was best to get back into the ‘real world’ and make some money.
So I ended up back in ‘computers’, designing web sites and initially the change was good but very soon I was frustrated with yet another lack of direction and hitting a plateau in my life – quite simply I wasn’t enjoying work. As usual my training was able to keep me distracted and I just counted down the hours in work until I could hit the mats and train Jiu Jitsu.
I became so passionate about Jiu Jitsu that one day I decided at the drop of a hat to book flights to Rio and train at the home of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It was an amazing experience and when I look back at it , it always reminds me how easy it really is to follow your dreams if you just commit to it and don’t put it off – something that is easy to forget. If it means doing something drastic at the drop of a hat, do it, it is a cliché but we don’t get a second run at life and it is always worth it.
Then the next life changing moment occurred. One evening while training – and very much burning the candle at both ends, I sustained a pretty bad knee injury while sparring. The result was tearing off my medial ligament in my knee completely and also rupturing my cruciate ligament and damaging my meniscus all in one go. It required surgery immediately and then spending the best part of the next 6 months learning to walk and jog again and the following year trying to build my strength back to where it was previously.
After the surgery I was confined to the same chair for 3 months and this gave me plenty of time to reflect on my life up to that point and take stock. I was unhappy with work and felt my life had no real purpose – other than training but now I was confronted with the fact that it was extremely unlikely I would ever be able to train to the same extent again – I remember the knee specialist saying it was the worst sports injury he had ever seen. I tried to come up with ideas of what I could work at now but nothing came into my mind. I was so used to being physically active and then, at 27 years of age I was being told I may be able to jog or cycle in the future and that would probably the height of it. Needless to say, for a while I became quite depressed and frustrated with how my life was panning out.
Once I had time to feel sorry for myself and get over it, I felt being faced with such an extreme situation, I had no choice but to roll up my sleeves and really work hard at rehabbing my knee. Harder than I have worked at anything else in my life.
I researched meticulously while I was recovering, trying to find out if anyone had been through anything similar and hopefully glean some inspiration. There were a few similar cases of people making comebacks and enough to give me hope. From there I decided that health and fitness was really where I wanted to spend my time. I wanted to take it seriously and I promised myself I would travel as far as it took to learn from the best – something that not many people were doing back then.
Slowly I started to gain range and strength back in my leg. I was lucky to get a job in a small personal training gym in Dublin – where I could coach clients on a one to one basis and not have to worry about participating in classes – ideal for a recovering knee. Also around this time I travelled to San Diego to obtain my Crossfit Level 1 cert – I think at the time I was the second person in the country to do so. Crossfit back then was still very much an underground movement on the verge of blowing up into what it is today and the enthusiasm and excitement lasted long after I returned home. Crossfit became my first love, BJJ took a back seat as I still didn’t feel confident enough to train martial arts with my knee injury. I immersed myself into everything Crossfit and I would train my clients accordingly.
In early 2009 I moved to Australia for a while and trained at Crossfit Brisbane – where I met Matt Swift, the head coach. His professionalism and attention to detail was something I found inspiring and to this day is still my yardstick for success. In Australia I had a chance to attend a Bio Sig cert with Charles Poliquin and also receive my Australian Weightlifting license.
When I returned to Dublin my soul was crying out to try Jiu Jitsu again. I tentatively made a return but there were quite a few false starts. I hate to admit it but it was tough mentally – I was getting beaten up by guys that started training long after me and this was hard to take. I dabbled in and out of training for a while but a combination of a battered ego and fear of getting injured again saw me walk away from Jiu Jitsu indefinitely.
I was still travelling to America to gain more certifications and the Crossfit Football cert in Tampa in 2009 was the one where I began to realise there may be more to fitness than Crossfit. I found it odd that at a Crossfit cert the tutors were almost attacking Crossfit and I left Tampa with a lot more questions than when I arrived but it was another crossroads that encouraged growth.
In the winter of 2010 – yes the worst winter on record, I decided to open up my own garage gym. I THINK that it was definitely one of the first of its kind in Dublin (hard to believe now) and it was without doubt the worst time to open a gym ever. The first couple of months were extremely difficult and nearly saw me pack up and concede defeat.
The one thing that kept me pushing forward was the immense job satisfaction of seeing people come into the gym and progress from a basic start point to a place where they are performing movements they never thought would be possible or changing their body shape almost entirely and becoming ‘intermediate’ – or at this stage now ‘advanced’ athletes.
The gym started off in a small 500 square foot garage and grew extremely quickly. In a matter of weeks we had The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and RTE radio calling into us to see what this garage gym was all about. This was a blessing and a curse – as it put us on the radar and very quickly, we outgrew our modest location in a matter of months and then Dublin City council ordered us to move.
Faced with closing down again, I was running out of options fast but at the very last minute I found a suitable premises in Greenmount Avenue, Harold’s Cross – where we are still located today.
Once moved and settled I began to get the hunger for Jiu Jitsu again. It was something I could never entirely shake. A lot of my friends were still training and I got jealous hearing about their stories. After so many false starts, I made a pact with myself not to get frustrated about losing and just take every session as a blessing and be grateful – as not long ago I was told I would never be able to train again.
With this slightly more mature approach I found my feet again and over time began competing consistently. Since then I have risen to brown belt (one off black) and I try to compete at home or abroad as often as possible. I still get competition anxiety but it is improving. I love the adrenaline and nerves at the same time and right now I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than travelling and competing. I love the challenge of that, training daily and running a business.
With regards to running the gym, my direction has changed slightly again since gaining various certifications under James Fitzgerald of OPEX Fitness. Through James’ teaching, I have seen the importance of assessing and gathering as much data as possible – and the importance of individualising our group training sessions. I have also been lucky to travel to New Jersey and train with Zach EvenEsh and his passion and enthusiasm for coaching and helping his clients is something that stuck with me – even to this day and it is something I really learned to duplicate. His mantra of caring is something that I still feel is lost on a lot of coaches and as basic as it sounds, it goes a long way to building relationships and achieving results.
Looking back over this story I am proud that South Dublin Strength & Conditioning is managing to hold its own amidst the ever increasing number of gyms not only in Dublin but in the surrounding area. I would be my own harshest critic (even though I have a lot out there) and SDSC is still a long way from where I want it to be, but when I have members telling me that they would not know what to do without the gym, that makes everything worthwhile and encourages me to better myself and the gym.
My goals for myself professionally are to continue to up skill – I would like to carry on down the OPEX Fitness path and possibly connect with a few more coaches over the next 12 months – these days so many world renowned coaches come to Dublin to give seminars that I would not have to go anywhere and still be able to cross paths with coaches that years ago I would have had to travelled across the globe to meet.
From a personal point of view I want to keep training and enjoying Jiu Jitsu as much as I am now and finally overcome or at least control my competition nerves – which I feel I am getting the hang of. I am excited for the future and to do my best to fulfil the potential of the gym, the members and myself.
I also realise that for someone who does not like talking about themselves, that was a long post. I hope you can take something positive from my story – and if anyone is going through a bad injury, send me an email and I will happily dispense any advice I can.