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Reaching your peak


NEW HEIGHTS Karl Henry (front, first from left) with the Allianz group aiming to complete the Four Peaks Challenge this weekend, in aid of The Alzheimer Society of Ireland.


Anton McNulty

“Health has become trendy,” was the honest reply from fitness guru Karl Henry when asked what motivates a group of people with little or no hiking experience to give up a weekend to climb the highest mountain in each province?
The star of RTÉ’s hit show Operation Transformation has for the last number of weeks been putting 18 Allianz employees through the ringer to prepare them for climbing four mountains, totalling 3,628m, in just three days.
“I haven’t broken any spirits yet,” Karl laughed when talking to The Mayo News ahead of the Allianz Four Peaks Challenge, which starts in Kerry this Friday, June 16, with a climb of Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil.
After conquering Carrauntoohil they will stay overnight in Leenane before taking on Connacht’s highest peak, Mweelrea. From there they will climb Slieve Donard in Co Down and Lugna-quilla in Co Wicklow.
Hopefully it will all be worth it. The team is aiming to raise €50,000 in much-needed funds for The Alzheimer Society of Ireland.
“It is the hardest programme we have … climbing the four biggest peaks in three days,” explained the personal trainer, who works with some of the top companies providing programmes focusing on the health and wellbeing of staff.
“Their main motivation is to challenge themselves, and to do something that they really wouldn’t have thought they could do. The ability to do the four biggest peaks in the country is a massive milestone many people would not be able to achieve. They are beginners, but their fitness levels have really improved, and they are really pushing themselves. They have been great to work with so far. It has been a joy.
“I’m very much a passenger in helping them and get them up. I gain a huge about of energy and pride seeing what people have achieved in such a short space of time.”

Post-crash phenomenon
Challenges like the Four Peaks Challenge along with adventure races have become a regular occurrence across the country in recent years, with more and more people looking to push their bodies to the limit. To many, such extremes are pure madness, but not to Karl. For him, pushing yourself to getting the best out of your body can only bring positive results.
“I think when the crash kicked in economy-wise, people started to focus on themselves again. It wasn’t about the bigger or better house or car, it was about yourself, your health, your stress levels. Health has become trendy, and extreme health like this has become incredibly trendy.
“People are going to more extremes as we speak, but it’s brilliant. To say it gives people hope is a little bit strong but it gives people the belief that with hard work you can do anything you want when it comes to your health,” he said.
Karl, who came to national recognition as one of the leading fitness experts in Operation Transformation, has published four fitness and wellbeing books with a fifth to be released next year.
Getting fit and healthy is big business now, and anyone who is on social media cannot miss the selfies and videos of people promoting themselves as they work out in the gym. Before-and-after pictures are also used to highlight the benefits of certain fitness plans but Karl is not a fan.
“If vanity gets people moving, then great; we all need a trigger to get us going. You won’t see our clients posting six-pack photos while they are in the gym though because that is not what we are about. I’m not sure that is positive.
“With social media, you can’t believe what you are seeing. It can be filtered, angled … it is not reality. People are trying to buy into that but you can’t because it is not real. I certainly have an issue with that,” he said.

More to do
The success of the show, Karl believes, shows that Irish people are conscious about their health, and when health is packaged in the right way they will respond. Companies like Allianz now realise the importance of a healthy workforce for productivity. However, Karl feels that more needs to be done by the Government to get people active, starting at schools level.
“I think we need more PE in schools, and students should be bleep tested ever single year and given grades for your bleep test score especially in you exam year. If you sit your Leaving Cert, you should be given bonus points for being above certain fitness levels as incentive. They did that with Maths to incentivise more to do honours Maths; fitness should be the exact same. That is a simple way of doing it.”
Seems like the Government should take heed, or risk being whipped into shape by Karl Henry. But then again, maybe that would be no bad thing.