41-year-old gym instructor and swim coach James McIntyre, who gets his kicks from ‘Adventure Racing’ across mountains and lakes, loves what he does for a living (and for fun) and signs on him. But, it wasn’t always that way.
When he was in his late teens, he uses the word “chunky” to describe himself, adding that it never bothered him, mainly because he was more interested in sitting by a river bank fishing than pumping iron or swimming a lake.
“I had no inkling what I might end up doing, other than I was always a swimmer,” he said.
“ As a teenager I was the chunky kid who always had an excuse for not doing PE. I was always heavy until I was about 23.”
He credits a man called Paddy Gaffney, a Quarter Master Sergeant in the FCA, for giving him a love of hill climbing and that kick started his fitness regime - and playing rugby for Ballyshannon did no harm either as he found that “competitive bug” within himself.
“That was the first time I got a big spike in fitness and I loved it,” he said.
Around the same time he ditched a job he “hated” and headed west to do a diploma in Outdoor Education at GMIT.
A horrendous illness picked up while in Africa in 2009 “almost killed me” but in its own way, recovering from it gave him perspective on what is and isn’t important. “I ended up in an isolation ward in Sligo General Hospital recovering from a parasitic infection. I was most of a year recovering from that. That was life-changing in its own way.
“I always swam through the illness and recovery, then I wanted a goal to get my fitness back properly. I remember the time that John Maguire and Dara O’Malley Daly swam Donegal Bay and I always had that at the back of my mind, to give it a shot. I got to know Sarah Meehan and Sinead Donagher and we did that.”
Almost exactly a year later, August 26th, 2012, he did his first coast to coast, from Newcastle in Co Down to Creevy Pier outside Ballyshannon, running the Mourne Mountains, cycling to Enniskillen, kayaking Lower Lough Erne to Belleek and swimming Assaroe Lake (without asking permission!) before running the final leg to his beloved Creevy.
More recently he has satisfied another ambition: “I love coaching, so I coached the Donegal junior, senior and masters Surf Lifesaving team for two years, and we had great success.” But he also likes to compete and will go to the world championships in November in the Netherlands where his main event again will be surf ski.
At Ballyshannon Leisure Centre McIntyre spends much of his time helping others to get healthy more so than fit, he firmly believes in the adage, healthy body, healthy mind.
He spends a good deal of his time offering advice to clients who want to improve their fitness level, or in some cases, just simply get more active.
For fun McIntyre likes nothing more than to race coast to coast, but he is more interested in encouraging others to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
“I enjoy the demands of doing something like a coast to coast run, that’s my thing in terms of my own personal fitness, but for most of the people I work with, the thing I try to impress on them most is the benefits of a healthier lifestyle,” he says.
“For me it’s not about elite sport or huge fitness levels for most people. Having a healthy lifestyle is not a revolution and I try to help people to see that. Yes, there is a discipline involved and people can improve and at times lose motivation but one of the things that they must remember is that you cannot out-train a bad diet.
“If you aren’t aware of what you are eating, and programmes like the recent exposé on sugar content in so many foods we eat, serves to underline how important it is to know what we are eating, then you are going to have problems.”
He stresses that getting fit and staying fit can be done at a minimal cost. “It’s not about expensive gear, fancy stuff. Gym membership is a worthwhile investment because you will get professional advice about what to do, how to do it and at the right time.
“What people need to do is stay consistent. People come in to us, unsure, we will talk to them about what they can or should do, we will come up with a plan, we will monitor them and help them.”
And his final word of advice: “Find your level and stick with it, eat well, sleep well, get advice and take it and you will feel better in every way.”