There are probably few more intimidating things than walking through the doors of a gym if you’ve spent years without doing any physical exercise.
Worse again would be if that lack of physical activity came as a result of health issues.
Most of us feel guilty for using the lift instead of the stairs or taking the car when we could easily walk short distances, but for many, it isn’t a choice.
Sean Hargan knows more than most the problems encountered by people who have spent years isolated as a result of health problems. In his role with Derry City Council’s Sports Development section, Sean is currently working with members of the public on a GP referral scheme. He says the numbers being referred for physical activity from GPs and health workers is growing steadily and describes the work he does in getting people back to a healthy fitness level “hugely rewarding,”
Sean’s known to most people as a former Derry City player. Although he retired from professional football in 2008, he’s still a fan and has fond memories of his time with the club.
“I started the year they won the League and they haven’t won it since,” he laughs, speaking at Templemore Sports complex this week.
The son of Jo and Patsy Hargan, and the only boy in a family of six, Sean has fond memories of growing up in Top of the Hill and with his sister Dawn being a successful runner and his dad active in local boxing and soccer clubs, Sean was interested in sport from the beginning.
“I got interested in cross country then when I went to Brian McMenamin at the Long Tower Youth Club so sport was always really there,” says Sean.
Over the years, like most people trying to earn a living and make their way in the world, Sean worked a number of different jobs, including a ten year stint with local company, Perfecseal but at 19, he got offered a place in the Derry City reserve team.
In 1996 Sean was called up for the first team squad and played alongside Derry City greats like Liam Coyle, Anthony Tohill and Peter Hutton.
“It was then that we won the league in the 1996/97 season. I thought it would be like that all the time but we haven’t won it since,” he laughs.
Sean’s still a regular at the Brandywell though, and these days, brings along his sons Tiarnan and Oisin.
He also puts in his time as a radio commentator. But now, he watches from the sidelines, and is kept more than busy with his day job, as a coach with the council’s Sports Development Programme.
Sean divides his time between Templemore, Lisnagelvin and a number of community hubs across the city, and is one of the people responsible for helping members of the public achieve a healthier lifestyle through a regular fitness routine.
A major part of Sean’s role currently involves working as a coach through the GP referral initiative.
Under the scheme, doctors and medical experts can refer patients to Sean and his colleagues and in an unintimidating environment, an individually tailored plan is put in place for the person who is referred.
Sean’s certainly a man who is happy in his work, which is clear from the approach he has with each of the people he works with.
He’s on first name terms with most of the people coming and going from the Lifestyle sport and fitness centre at the Templemore Sports complex.
“It’s very rewarding work, and I love it,” says Sean
“Many of the people who come to us as part of the GP referral programme have for their own individual health reasons, not been able to keep up with their fitness. The first thing we tell people is that for us, there are no barriers. We can work with people of all ages and abilities. The oldest person we’ve worked with here was a 98-year-old, we’ve seen people with medical conditions do things they never thought they’d be able to do. We work with the hospital and the health services so that we have an idea of the different challenges being faced by each of the people who come through our doors.
“Clients can be referred for any number of reasons ranging from people who are diabetics, neurology patients and people undergoing physiotherapy, as well as people who may have mental health issues. We’re here to make time for each person and make them feel welcome and tailor a twelve week programme for them.
“One of our most recent clients was someone with a disability who ended up completing a triathlon. As far as we’re concerned, nothing is impossible.”
While Sean is currently focused on the GP referral programme which works with individuals on a twelve week basis, he’s also responsible for advising them on the best way forward in terms of maintaining a healthy level of fitness.
The council’s Sports Development Programme incorporates a number of follow on activities which range from swimming, running, bowling and netball.
“When people finish their own programme, it’s my job to make sure they have a plan going forward,” says Sean.
“That plan can involve becoming a gym member or getting involved in another activity. We can see from the number of people being referred that there’s a real need for the schemes that are being run by the council, and we’re also here to encourage people who don’t have underlying health problems to get out and about and have a plan for keeping fit and healthy.
“There has been a real change in the landscape in Derry in recent years and you only have to drive through the town any night of the week to see that there are so many more people out about along the quay and on the Peace Bridge running and walking. And, if adults are doing it, that’s a great example for children. However, the fact of the matter is that not everyone is doing it, and the programmes that are now in place under the Sports Development Programme are there with the intention of getting everyone in the city more fit and healthy, and that’s what all our jobs are about,” smiles Sean.
That, and spurring Derry City onto another League victory, of course, although as we end the interview, we don’t say any more about that.