84 more GAA clubs to graduate as 'Healthy Clubs'
By John Harrington
Saturday’s 2019 Healthy Clubs Conference is graduation day for the 84 GAA clubs across 32 counties who completed Phase 3 of the ‘Healthy Clubs’ Project.
It’ll be a proud day for all the clubs involved, but it was as much about the journey as the destination for the volunteers who have worked so hard to make their club a ‘Healthy Club’.
Like the clubs who have gone before them in Phase One and Phase Two of the project, it has been a transformative experience for those who have taken part in Phase Three.
Kinawley Brian Boru’s Healthy Club Officer, Anna McKenna, speaks with the zeal of the converted when she relates just how energising an experience it has been for her club to embrace the Healthy Club Project.
“It's had a hugely positive impact on our club," McKenna told GAA.ie "It's one of the best initiatives the community has ever seen because it has really brought the community together. We're not just a GAA club anymore, we're a community hub.
“We’re a healthier community too, and I’m probably a good example of that. I never ran in my life and hated running at school.
“But when I organised a couch to 5k in the club I thought, 'I'd better do it myself'. That was two and a half years ago and now I'm after completing my fourth couch to 5k.
“I never thought I'd be running and now I'm running a few kilometres ever week and supporting different running groups and charity runs.”
The walking and running club that Kinawley established was such an instant hit that it enabled them to successfully apply for funding to have a running track built that will be a huge asset for the club for years to come.
They’ve rolled out a series of other very worthy initiatives such as ‘Recipes for Success’, a series of nutritional work-shops and practical cookery classes, and jiving classes for young girls in the club.
The biggest impact of all was the joint fitness initiative with rival Fermanagh club Newtownbutler where each club challenged its members to reach over 100 million steps over the course of six weeks.
“We thought that if we could get 100 members each that it would be fantastic,” said McKenna.
“But at our first registration night we had 400 people who signed up and by the time it started Kinawley had 617 people who took part.
“We arranged it as a community event as much as a GAA club event and we people from different cultures involved and there was cross-community involvement too.
“Both clubs worked together to promote it and people were calling it 'Fermanagh's fittest club'. One person had over one million steps in the six weeks. They were a runner, which is to be expected, but the person with the second highest number of steps was a lady in her seventies. She had nearly completed a million steps herself.
“It was just a phenomenal effort from everyone. Kinawley won the challenge and over the course of the six weeks our participatnts had taken 249 million steps. Newtownbutler had 243 million steps.
“It was a good friendly banter between the clubs and energised both communities. Everybody was talking about it. What was lovely about it was that it got families exercising together, it was brilliant.”
Kinawley Brian Borus are just one of many clubs who have discovered that the ‘Healthy Club’ ethos becomes self-sustaining in a club once you make the effort to lay a few foundation stones in place.
That has also been the experience of Abbeyside-Ballinacourty in Waterford who have a very energetic Healthy Club committee headed up by Eamonn Cashin.
“When we were trying to think of what initiatives worked best for our club we got on to different people and different organisations, and, immediately, Waterford Sports Partnership came on board with us and they were running ideas by myself and my healthy club committee and we started formulating plans for various initiatives,” Cashin told GAA.ie
“The first initiative we decided on was known as 'Club on the Move'. Basically that was a six-week initiative every Wednesday and Friday in July of 2018. Before participants started their weight and waist circumference were measured.
“And then after the six weeks they were measured again and there was marked differences for a number of people who were absolutely thrilled with it.
“So much so, that this year we expanded it from ‘Club on the Move’ to ‘Community on the Move. As a result of that, the participants themselves have continued it on at the club grounds which we're delighted with.
“We're hoping that in the spring of 2020 we will roll out Generations on the Move whereby we'd get former players who are now grandfathers involved and you could have three generations of families doing some sort of a programme together.
“Simple initiatives can bring people together. Simple initiatives can take people out of their houses. Especially people who have had a hard day's work and come home and think they should go for a walk, but the motivation isn't there to go for the walk.
“Whereas if they're involved in a group, even if it's a walking group in the club, then the motivation is there because you might be part of a Whatsapp group where everyone is encouraging one another. People will make the effort if they're being motivated by others.
“For us, a massive success is the fact that the 'Community on the Move' initiative is still going. Even with Storm Lorenzo coming, they're heading down to the club tonight. They'll be out there on Wednesday night as well.”
On average, Healthy Clubs run five initiatives over the course of 18 months and the most popular priority areas are physical fitness, community and personal development, healthy eating, mental fitness, and gambling, alcohol, and drug education.
Oulart The Ballagh are one of 16 clubs nationwide who have successfully implemented a smoke-free policy with the help of club-member and 1996 All-Ireland winning captain, Martin Storey.
“I remembered that Martin had been a smoker and had given it up and we invited him to become the ambassador for our smoke-free campaign and he was delighted to get involved,” said Oulart’s Healthy Club officer, Breda Flood, told GAA.ie
“It turned out there was actually a great little story behind how he had stopped smoking himself. He had been playing senior club hurling for a number of years and had had great success and was still playing after he finished his inter-county career.
“He said that he mentioned to Liam Dunne one day that he was thinking of giving up the hurling. Liam said to him, 'Don't give up the hurling, give up the fags!'
“So he did, and he reckons he got another five years playing senior hurling because he gave up smoking. It was a great story and he was delighted to be ambassador.”
As part of the initiative an art competition was held for local school-children with theme of a smoke-free club that linked the positive effects of not smoking with the place where they play and train.
The posters they made were so good that the European Lung Foundation published them on their Twitter channel on World Asthma Day.
“On the day of the launch a lady from the HSE came out to the club to do carbon monoxide testing which was very much a revelation," said Flood. "She wanted to show the difference between someone who was a smoker and someone who was a non-smoker.
“I was tested as a non-smoker, Martin was tested as a smoker who had quit a number of years ago, and we also had a younger guy who was a smoker. She wanted to show the difference.
“Martin and my own level of carbon monoxide was practically zero, but the other person who was tested had quite a significant score for carbon monoxide.
“She explained to the kids about how carbon monoxide remains in your system and what it is and what it does. So it was a great learning opportunity and the kids and their parents really bought into it.
“We haven't had to police our smoke-free policy. If we did spot somebody we'd have a very quiet word. It was only a few days after the launch that we were at an underage match and I saw one guy tap another fella on the shoulder and then he went outside the gate to smoke his cigarette and came back in.
We're very happy with how people have bought into it and it's really come from the efforts of the children and their parents. They're the ones who have really gotten the effort out.
“I'd highly recommend other clubs becoming Healthy Clubs. It's a win-win. There's so much expertise, support and material you can avail of.
“The Community and Health department in Croke Park are always there to lend a hand and offer advice. It's a huge community service.
“Any club that applies and is lucky enough to be included, it can only benefit them going forward.”
Many clubs like St. Croan’s in Roscommon were already active in the community and health space, but joining Phase Three of the Healthy Club Project helped further develop that aspect of the club.
One of their most worthwhile initiatives was to link up with the Western Regional Taskforce for Drugs to educate both players and coaching staff of the dangers of substance abuse.
“We did training with the managements of our various teams about what you would do initially if you realised that somebody had a problem,” St Croan’s Healthy Club officer, Marion Kelly, told GAA.ie
“How you would deal with it, how you would approach the child and put them on the right direction, who you would contact. that type of stuff that was for the management of different teams.
“Then for our players from minor up we had talks on substance abuse and how it affects your performance. That was very good as well. Yeah, those two things worked very well.
“We had a local speaker who had gone through a tough journey in his life. He spoke very honestly from the heart to our club about it. The bad decisions he had made, and then the good ones that ultimately helped him through.
“What we learned from that was that when you're bringing in speakers it’s so worthwhile to bring in someone who has been through an experience others can learn from.
“Not everybody is involved in sport and being a Healthy Club helps bring other people into the club. It's all about health and wellbeing now. If we can do anything that can help somebody get out and exercise and meet and talk with other people, then it's massive.
“There's a group of us who are doing the marathon together. We're amateur runners, but we're going to do it, and we have such craic together. It's a great outlet.
“That's what we're trying to provide for people through the healthy clubs, an outlet. That can make such a difference to people.”
The launch of Phase 4 of the Healthy Club Project takes place at Saturday’s conference as the GAA seeks to recruit another 150 clubs to participate come January 2020.
Previous Healthy Club conferences have been a real nexus point for exchanging helpful information as club members from around the country share ideas and talk about what has worked in their clubs.
A limited number of free tickets are still available for this year's conference and can be accessed HERE.
You can read more information on how to become a healthy club HERE.