GAA & Irish Life’s MyLife app ‘Healthy Club Steps Challenge’ a roaring success
By Jamie Ó Tuama
On January 13th, 2021, 616 clubs from all over Ireland and further afield signed up for the GAA Healthy Club ‘Every Step Counts Challenge’ delivered in partnership with Irish Life and hosted on their MyLife App. Six weeks later, over 27,000 people have taken part in what has been an overwhelming success story that has quite literally managed to keep Ireland moving during these times of lockdown. To date participants have amassed over 5.7 million kilometres collectively. The final tally will be revealed after the challenge ends on March 3rd.
As part of the Step Challenge, any club that registered on the App and whose team records at least 4,000km – the equivalent of walking around the coast of Ireland – is in with a chance to win one of the €2,500, €1,500, and €1,000 O’Neill’s gift vouchers up for grabs in each province with thanks to Irish Life.
Among the clubs to participate in the steps challenge were St. Colmcille’s of Meath, Cavan Gaels, Ahane of Limerick, St.Aidan’s of Roscommon and Fullen Gaels of Manchester. As the step challenge draws to a close GAA.ie caught up with these clubs this week to see how they got on and to chat about their experiences.
They spoke to us about the challenges they faced getting people involved, initially, as well as the joy and positivity the challenge brought to their clubs and members and about how the challenge impacted on their communities.
Ciara Lalor, PRO with St Colmcille’s GAA club in Meath explained the positive effect the Step Challenge had on her own club members and how their friendly rivalry with Dublin club Clontarf drove them on and inspired them:
“I set up the challenge back in January not knowing whether or not many people would join it. We have over 320 registered now and at the last look we had just over 64,000 kilometres done. We are now aiming for 80,000!
We have our own collective ambition inside in the club based on the fact that the club is 50 years old this year. We hit the 50,000-kilometre mark but we said it wasn’t enough for us and we’d try to hit the 50,000-mile mark. Some of our older members are measuring their steps in miles so we are going for the 50,000 miles mark.
We are first in Leinster at the moment although we are being nipped at the heals constantly by Clontarf!! We are having great craic with them on social media chasing each other. They have done super work in their community as well. I saw a fundraiser they did last weekend in aid of the Irish Cancer Society and Pieta House encouraging all their members to do something active. They have been a great kind of adversary in the nicest possible way for us throughout this.”
Competition does not come exclusively from other clubs. Ciara spoke about the internal competition created by the Step Challenge and how fellow club members motivated and encouraged one another.
‘Internally we have our own competitions, and we are watching the numbers. Everyone is trying to hold their rank, but some people are holding it and overtaking others and getting great joy from overtaking others.’
Ciara described the positive impact the Step Challenge is having on members of the club and how proud and heartened she was of the club and the GAA in general for providing an outlet and a focus for people at present:
“For me personally, seeing the engagement that we have had from members and the community and giving something back to our members at this time when there is very little else going on, you take great pride in been able to do it. We take great pride in that we were able to do something like this for our members – keeping people active, keeping people engaged and keeping people having a bit of fun and giving them a reason to get out and a reason to walk.
Other people have used the walking as a stepping-stone to get back running and they used it as a means to retrain themselves. Other people have said that it has given them what they need in terms of focus and mental health and I suppose for us as a club, it has really shown what we can do for people.”
St. Aidan’s, a small rural club with a big heart in Roscommon, had 83 people from varied age cohorts take part in the Steps Challenge. Stephen Harney spoke to us on behalf of the club about how the Challenge benefitted him personally, as well as other members of the club.
“St Aidan’s being a small club, we got involved in this step challenge very early. We had a great initial week. We started very positively. We were fourth on the list in Connacht walking 4,000 kilometres inside eight days. As of today, we are approaching 20,000 kilometres completed. We have between 5-10 of our group completing between 15 and 20 kilometres a day on their daily walks.
It is a very flexible programme and that suited quiet a lot of our population in the area. It is easy to access it because we didn’t have to bring people to the pitch or to a central location. People could walk around their own local area within the parish which is what people were doing.
The flexibility of it allowed people to go when it suited them. If you look out the window and it is raining you just hold off and you go when the rain abates. It also allowed people to walk within their work frame as such, that they weren’t pushing themselves to have to do it at 2pm in the afternoon or 3pm or whatever time it would be.
From my own case, I had basically done very little activity since ‘Fit4Life’ last March apart from physical work around the land, so it was a great opportunity for me to do something for myself. Myself and my wife started getting out.
Our short walks at that time were between 5-6 kilometres but now, after 6 weeks of the programme, I would now walk for 2-3 hours straight. You’d be walking up to 16 -18 kilometres without a bother and you’d do the same the next day. That has brought on a huge fitness level and obviously a healthy benefit from the Steps Challenge itself.
I’ve been very fortunate. I was trying to reach a target of 500km but all going well, I will have completed over 900 kilometres! That is how it benefited me personally. It was a great initiative. It got me active. It gave me a focus, a reason to do something. It was for the club, but it was obviously for my benefit also.”
Regarding the benefits from a wellbeing and mental health point of view, Geraldine Connolly of Manchester based club, Fullen Gaels, who have completed 9,600 kilometres to date spread out over their 49 participants, echoed Ciara Lalor’s point.
“The Challenge has definitely contributed to our mental wellbeing in varying ways and, also, made the team more socially connected. It has created a nice, fun competitive challenge which has boosted morale, I feel, and given us something to work towards as a team and community here in Manchester.”
Ann Ryan, Assistant Secretary with Ahane GAA Club who are in poll position in Munster with over 58,000 steps, spoke about her club’s involvement in the Step Challenge. She mentions, in particular, how happy the club was with the response locally:
“This was our first time doing this. We were delighted with the response in our community. We have approximately 200 members participating with ages ranging from 18 right up to approximately 80! We had little difficulty getting members involved. People were only delighted to take part in something given the current climate.
The Challenge has given people focus in a time where they can’t meet to socialise or exercise.”
Linda O’Connor, Secretary of Ahane’s Bord na nÓg, commented on how the challenge has benefitted the club’s members and how competitiveness traits among members have been reaffirmed:
“It has been very positive for our members’ mental health and keeping our spirits up. Whether people are not working, working from home or going to work, it has given a goal to our community. It has kept our members fit and healthy and has had a positive impact on our children who have been watching their parents taking on the challenge and getting a little fitter. While the challenge is for 18s and over, many kids have accompanied their parents in their daily walks, enhancing quality family time together.
We have a great community spirit in our club. Ahane GAA are competitive by nature. The Step Challenge has certainly reaffirmed this competitiveness and more so within the members of the challenge. Personal achievements have been reached by members.''
Cavan Gaels have also been absorbed in the Step Challenge over the past few weeks and the club’s Development Officer, Niall O’Riordan, shares a lot of the experiences mention by the other clubs we spoke to. The club has over 150 signed up and are hoping to hit the 45,000-kilometre mark by next Wednesday.
“For the last few years and especially around January we would have been involved in ‘Operation Transformation’ type initiatives in the club which would usually coincide with the TV programme. We ran circuits and classes, a walking and running clubs and what have you. So, we were all set to go with the Healthy Ireland ‘Get Well’ initiative when lockdown came so this ‘Healthy Club Steps Challenge’ was a welcome initiative to fill the void.
It was a great initiative to get people out. There was plenty of banter. We had lads questioning did fellas have their phones tied to their dogs or what was going on. It was great craic!
There are lots of people who wouldn’t be involved in football that got involved in it. We encouraged Gaels’ people that do walk to get their walking partners to sign up. With the app you would see the leader board and the friendly competition, among different groups.''
Niall explains how the Steps Challenge had a knock effect on children and how it benefitted them:
“Walkers would bring their kids out to get them away from their computers. A thing most parents are worried about is kids being addicted to screens. The worst thing about this lockdown is that you are trying to get kids away from screens, but you are pushing them towards them at the same time due to home schooling. I saw a lot of lads maybe getting two walks in a day and one of them was when they brought their kids out in the evening which is good for family bonding.
It has been a success, good craic. I have definitely a whole new appetite for walking myself. I used to force myself to run. I hated every bit of it except the finish! I used to try to do 5k maybe three times a week, but I would dread it and look forward to it being over. Now I walk probably 6 days a week and enjoy every bit of it because you can relax and listen to a podcast or the radio. So rather than hating running 5k I enjoy walking 8 or 10.''
GAA & Irish Life’s MyLife app ‘Healthy Club Steps Challenge’ will come to an end on the third of March 3rd. The results and winners of the gift vouchers will be announced on March 11 once all data has been collated. Irish Life has been CSR partners for the GAA Healthy Club Project, which now engages 300 clubs, since 2014 (other partners include Healthy Ireland, the HSE, National Office for Suicide Prevention, and the Tomar Trust). To find out more about the project and to learn about how your club can get involved when the next expression of interest process opens in November 2021 go to www.gaa.ie/community
In the meantime, keep on walking…