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Personal trainer with a special mission

A STRANORLAR-based personal trainer specialising in inclusive fitness is helping those in the community who need it most.
Paul Smyth opened his studio in May of last year and since then has been working with clients from the age of eight to their mid-70s who would otherwise never have an opportunity to get into a gym.

Paul Smyth in his Inclusive Fitness Studio in Stranorlar

A native of Johannesburg in South Africa, Mr Smyth returned to Donegal in the early 1990s following the death of his father.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, he explained: “My mother is from Letterkenny so I moved back here after completing the equivalent of my A Levels in South Africa. However, it was in South Africa that I first became aware of how a disability can impact someone’s future.”
 
He continued: “My best friend had a car accident when he was 15 and it changed his life completely. I was captain of the rugby team, he was vice captain. I moved back to Ireland and we always kept in touch. But, just seeing how that changed him, changed my outlook. Here was a guy who had everything going for him, one of the most popular guys in school, but his career path, everything changed.”

Paul Doherty with trainer Paul Smyth

 
For Mr Smyth, the idea of caring for people that need it most was always there but he received further inspiration from his own son Sean, who was diagnosed with autism and from his wife who urged him to turn his passion into a career.
With the decision made to begin helping those who need it most, he set about equipping himself with all the qualifications he would need to work in the field of inclusive fitness. He has now been nominated for an award by CARA, the incisive fitness governing body in Ireland.
“I was always into fitness and had been an athletics coach at Finn Valley for six years and before that in Lifford. The big push for me is the inclusive aspect. There are a lot of personal trainers out there but very few who want to work with the people who need it most.”
 
Because Mr Smyth’s studio is laid out to accommodate people with a range of abilities it has been approved by the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA).
“Every Thursday night I work with young adults referred by the IWA. It is not the case that that everyone is in a wheelchair. People who come to me have a range of disabilities, intellectual as well as physical including spina bifida and cerebral palsy and because there are no trip hazards it’s suitable for clients who are blind.”
The resource Mr Smyth is providing has been much welcomed by his clients and their families.
“Obviously not everybody is cut out to work with people with disabilities. It can be challenging but is so worth it when you see the difference you are making. When a mum comes to you and says I can take my son out in public now because of the difference you’re making, it’s incredible.”

Mary Gallagher getting to good health after knee and back surgery

 
Through Donegal Sports Partnership’s Inclusion Officer Mr Smyth has also been working with young people at the Bluestack Foundation Donegal Town and a recent meeting will see him work with nearby St Joseph’s Community Hospital.
“The nurse in charge of the Intellectual Disability Unit plans to start bringing a group of residents here in the new year. Not only will it help their fitness it also gets them out into the community.”
 
In the future Mr Smyth said he would love to focus solely on inclusive fitness due to the huge demand that exists within the county.
“I am a general PT but my hope is to one day focus on exclusively doing specialist work. When it comes to exercise, weight loss and fat loss, we all know what we need to do but that group needs the help and support the most.
“I also work with some children with special needs in local schools and help them see the support that’s there and how they must not be defined by their disability.”

 

Of all his achievements over the past year, perhaps the most important for Mr Smyth is the assistance he gave a woman who had been left paraplegic after a car crash.

“She only had the use of her right arm and when she came to me she wanted to stand up straight in her son’s wedding pictures. She had been told by her consultant she would never walk but after three months she was taking small steps and walking short distances. That was my biggest achievement,” concluded Mr Smyth.
 
Life changed for Autistic son
A BALLYBOFEY woman whose non-verbal, autistic son has been working with Paul Smyth Inclusive Fitness since last year said their life has been turned around.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Pauline McGrath explained her son Ryan, who is now 18, had effectively been housebound because his behaviour can often be challenging.
“When Paul opened the studio I decided to take a chance and see if he could work with Ryan. It’s not easy to get someone who is able to work with Ryan because it takes patience and that’s very rare. I stayed with Ryan the first day but now he has the independence to go into Paul himself.
She said the work he has been doing in the gym is also helping with his verbalisation and has improved his behaviour so that getting out and about is now a much easier task.
“Paul works with Ryan on a one to one basis and he can now take instructions and it has made life a bit easier. Over the last three months I have been able to bring him to swimming lessons and he can also go to the cinema and he loves that wee bit of independence.”
Letterkenny woman Mary Gallagher said she has been given a new lease on life since getting into the gym following knee and back surgery.
“I was a very active walker but my health was affected by the surgeries. Working with Paul gave me back my confidence and has really made a massive difference. I never thought I would be someone to go to a gym but the work I have been doing helped so much with my recovery.”
 
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Donegal News is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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