Kealan O’Kane has literally changed his life and he has no intention of going back.
Twenty-four year-old Kealan is a volunteer with the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum and in recent weeks he achieved a certificate which qualifies him to facilitate the up-and-coming GP Referral initiative.
Life wasn’t always so full of opportunity for Kealan.
Just over two years he weighed over 19 stone and was desperately unhappy and lacked any degree of confidence.
“I knew I had to do something so I got in contact with the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum and with their help and support I have been able to shed over six stone in two years,” said Kealan proudly.
The first step is always the hardest but Kealan is taking the healthy lifestyle in his stride.
“I still have a few beers at the weekend and I enjoy the odd takeaway but I still train six days a week.
“I no longer see it is something I have to do, I see it as something I want to do. I enjoy doing it.
“I owe a lot of what I have achieved to the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum - if it wasn’t for their help and support I would not have achieved one per cent of what I have achieved today.”
Kealan said had someone told him two years ago that by the end of 2013 he would have lost six stone, completed two half marathons and had become a qualified fitness instructor he would have told them to “get a grip”!
“I know some people say it all of the time but before I started training I literally couldn’t run the length of myself.
“I honestly didn’t expect that I would have got this far and achieved so much. Had someone told me I would have done all of this two years ago I would have told them to get a grip.”
Taking part in the men’s health programme at the Gasyard Centre not only helped Kealan improve upon his fitness but he now volunteers with the group and in a few weeks time he will facilitate a GP Referral initiative.
“It’s nice being able to give a little back to the very course that helped me to get to where I am today,” said Kealan.
“I am also a member of the local running club, ‘Born to Run’ and in the last few months I have completed two half marathons.
“I might not be ready to compete in the Olympics but as long as I can keep the weight off and stay relatively healthy I will be a happy man.
“I am really proud of what I have achieved but you can never take anything for granted. I still train six days a week and while I still enjoy a few drinks at the weekend and I have a few take aways I still work hard to make sure I don’t put the weight back on again.
“It’s a hard slog but when you see the result it’s all worth it.”
Seamus Ward is the Programme Manager for the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum.
Seamus said that in the 12 years the Forum has existed it has helped countless men from right across the TRIAX area (Bogside, Brandywell, Creggan, Bishop Street and Fountain) to lose weight and get fit.
“We’ve managed countless women’s fitness initiatives here but the one thing we always noticed was that it was difficult to engage with men.
“So we decided to set-up initiatives and courses that were designed especially for men and since then it has been a real success.
“If the work we do helps just one or two men to lose weight and get fit then we know that what we are doing is making a difference.”
Seamus explained that one of the main reasons the Forum’s men’s health initiative has become such a success is because the men enjoy meeting up with one another.
“You might not believe it but there is a real social side to all of our men’s health programmes here.
“Not all of the men knew one another when they started here but friendships have been made and as a result they stop seeing the courses as something they have to do and instead they see it as chance to do something with their mates.”
The Forum’s men’s health initiatives are not just for older men. Seamus explained one of the issues they are currently trying to highlight is the prevalence of testicular cancer amongst younger men.
“Look, we don’t want to scare anyone - that’s the last thing we want to do - but we are trying to raise awareness about cancer amongst young men.
“It’s highly topical at the minute with Movember just starting but we want to create an atmosphere where younger men feel comfortable talking about their health - it could save someone’s life,” said Seamus.
The men’s health courses are run throughout the year by the Forum.
The initiatives tend to focus on exercise, healthy eating and mental health. Seamus said they’ll be starting a few new courses in the next few months and asked for anyone with an interest to get in contact.
“We want to hear from as many people as possible. All they have to do is give us a call at the Gasyard and we will look after the rest,” he said.
For more information contact Seamus Ward and his team at the Gasyard Centre on 028 71 262 812.