|When Tom Finnerty (pictured) was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes five years ago, he joined a gym to help him lose weight. With little advice on what to do, he soon found himself losing interest. But rather than giving up, he had a much better idea – he set up his own gym.|
Tom was in his early 40s when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. His main symptom at the time was tiredness. In fact, a near accident when he fell asleep at the wheel of his car was what prompted him to attend his GP.
“I was on the road a lot with my job and I fell asleep in the car. The next thing I remember, I could hear beeping and I woke up to the sight of a truck right in front of me. I had to swerve into a ditch to avoid it. I went to my GP who immediately suspected diabetes. The tests confirmed it”, he said.
Tom (47) of Rahan in Tullamore, Co Offaly, did not know a lot about diabetes at the time and freely admits he did not take it as seriously as he should have.
“If you have a broken leg, you get a pain, but with diabetes, you don’t feel pain and you don’t feel ill. It is easy to put it on the long finger and forget things like taking bloods. However it all catches up with you later down the road”, he explained.
However one proactive step he took at the time was to join a gym.
“I had always been a big man but a fit man, as I played sport. When I gave up sport a few years ago, that’s probably when some of the problems started. I joined a commercial gym in a hotel. I spoke to the instructor and I explained that I had diabetes and needed to get my weight down. He told me he would get back to me and never did”, Tom explained.
With no advice, it was not long before he lost interest.
“I found it very monotonous. It is very boring when you are on your own, so I stopped going”, he said.
He mentioned to a friend of his, John Looby, that he would like to start a gym and from there, the Better Health Club was born.
“In the beginning, we had no equipment. So five or six of us with diabetes would warm up, walk around the inside of our parish hall for 20 minutes, warm down and then have a cup of tea and a chat”, he explained.
A €9,000 bank loan then allowed them to buy some equipment. The gym got busier as more people attended and a grant from the HSE allowed for the purchase of more equipment.
“We bought all the equipment on E-bay from the UK. But we couldn’t afford the courier costs because the equipment weighed so much. So myself and John borrowed a truck and went over there and basically spent a week driving around the UK dismantling equipment and then bringing it back here”, Tom explained.
However with more people and more equipment, this threw up a major problem – space. The parish hall could not accommodate the gym anymore, so all the equipment had to go into storage.
However with support from volunteers and funds from Leader Plus – an EU community initiative that provides funding for rural development – building work on a gym began in February, 2007.
The work was completed just before Christmas in 2007 and the gym officially opened in January 2008.
According to Tom, one of the best things about the Better Health Club is the support people give to each other. There’s also the fact that if you are conscious of your weight, ‘you don’t have to stand next to someone with a six pack’.
“I was never bothered about what other people thought about my weight. But some people are too embarrassed to go near a gym or go out exercising because of their weight. In our gym, you’re not standing next to someone with a six pack so people tend to be less conscious”, he said.
However it is not just physical activity he wants to focus on, Tom also believes in the importance of education.
“I would like the medical field to get involved. It would be great if a nurse or dietician for example would come down every six weeks or so and speak to members. Education in diabetes is very important and I took it for granted”, he said.
Now that the gym is built, Tom certainly isn’t resting on his laurels. He is hoping to develop a programme aimed at primary school children, particularly those who may be, or be on their way to being, overweight or obese.
“We’re hoping to have a programme for them for two hours on a Saturday morning. This would help educate them and give their parents a well earned break!”
The Better Health Club is also ‘looking at a swimming pool in the next three years’.
Tom believes that such ventures should be welcomed by the HSE and Department of Health as in the long run, they are helping the health of those involved, which can only have a positive knock-on effect in the health service.
The Better Health Club is around 1,300 square feet and has almost 30 pieces of equipment. While originally aimed at people with diabetes, Tom emphasised that it is a community gym so people who do not have the condition are welcome to join as well.
“It was built by the community for the community.”
Membership costs €300 annually and is open to anyone over the age of 18. The gym is wheelchair accessible. For more information, contact Tom on 087 274 2677.