GOOD FIT John Wilson has turned his passion for fitness into a new business in Ballinrobe. Pic: Elizabeth Toher
When work started drying up, John Wilson didn’t take it lying down
IT was a rookie mistake scheduling an interview after my first fitness class in over six months, but two birds, one stone and all that.
Just 40 minutes before our sit-down interview at JW Fitness in Ballinrobe, owner John Wilson had the group lunging, squatting, box jumping and whatever you’re having yourself.
Up until a few short weeks ago, the father-of-three was in a job he now admits he hated.
“I was doing the carpet fitting, and when everything crashed I was at home panicking, wondering how I’d pay the bills,” explained the 38 year old. Business had slowed down dramatically, and it was a scary time.
“I got really down, so it got to the point where my wife, Michelle, sat me down and said she thought I needed to go and speak to somebody. Being a guy, I didn’t really want to go and see somebody.”
The Birmingham native, who has three children aged five months, three and seven, made a deal with his wife.
“I said I’d get fit first, and we’d go on from there,” explains the fitness instructor and personal trainer, in his gym on Watson’s Lane.
Things changed when John saw a commercial for a fitness DVD called ‘Insanity’. Insanity is maximum-intensity interval training, which took the world by storm due to its incredible results in short periods of time.
“I saw the insanity commercial on TV, so I bought that. When it came in the post I remember Michelle saying ‘that’s the biggest waste of €100 you’ve ever spent’, and that kind of spurred me on a little bit more. I did 60 days of Insanity, and I lost a couple of stone.”
John admits he was overweight at the time, after being forced to quit playing soccer with Ballinrobe Town AFC due to reoccurring injuries.
“I lost the weight, and it kind of really suited me to be honest, but I never thought it would take me anywhere, and then a couple of people said to me, ‘You’re really passionate about it, why don’t you train to be a fitness instructor and personal trainer?’.
A carpet fitter for 21 years – all his working life – John never thought his career would go anywhere else, until his wife and her friends encouraged him.
“I can barely read and write. I’m dyslexic, so I could never see myself going back to college, I was petrified of it, but Shel [Michelle] found a course up in Galway.”
With the help of mentor Mary Connolly at the Galway Technical Institute, John overcame his learning difficulties and passed exams with distinction.
Not knowing exactly what to do with his qualification next, he found himself helping three sisters and their mother get into shape ahead of a special family occasion.
For six weeks John drove around to their houses three nights a week.
“I’d bring a few kettle bells, body weights and a few dumbbells. They worked really hard and we got good results. People had been asking them what they were doing because they looked mighty, and then I got approached to take classes in Kilmaine Hall,” he explains.
Two years on, John built up a loyal following of people looking to get in shape, both in Kilmaine and in Shrule. He also travelled to the UK to become a certified Insanity instructor, and feels things have now come ‘full circle’.
With the day job still going, John found himself getting up at 5am to complete his own training and not getting home until 10pm at night.
“If I was lucky I’d get home at 6pm to see the kids and put them to bed and I’d be out the door for 7pm, back up to the halls … but it was getting tough on me, and Michelle.”
Taking the plunge
As push came to shove, a unit became available on Watson’s Lane in the town. John took the leap to open his own place, and downed tools just one month ago to pursue the dream.
How did he feel about taking the plunge? “Petrified, to be honest! Michelle doesn’t work [outside the home] so I’m the sole breadwinner.”
John had formulated a five-year plan for attaining his dream of owning a gym. He’s done it in three—something he and Michelle are extremely proud of.
“It’s what I love doing. Don’t get me wrong I’d be a liar if I said when the alarm goes off I’m not thinking ‘Oh my God’, but once people walk through that door it doesn’t feel like work.”
And what next for the ambitious Brummie?
“The end goal would be to open the commercial side of it more and have a monthly membership. I love doing the classes, but I would love to expand and have something for my kids, I think this would be a great environment for my kids to grow up in.”
As I walked down the stairs of the gym, jelly legs and all, I couldn’t help but be inspired by John’s determination.