For many the new year means a new beginning, a new fitness regime, a fresh look at their diet. It also means a new ‘Operation Transformation’, one of RTÉ’s most successful shows. Jonathan deBurca Butler meets three of this year’s candidates
Now in its ninth year, the health and fitness programme, Operation Transformation will follow five ‘leaders’, as they attempt to reshape their lives, physically and mentally.
They are supported and guided by a panel of experts in the fields of fitness, nutrition, and psychology for seven weeks as they try to inspire TV viewers countrywide to learn from their experience
Young mum, Lucy Dillon from Clonmelin in Co. Meath, spends her time juggling her job as a hotel reservation executive, helping her father to run the family business and caring for her one-year-old daughter, Molly, along with her partner, Conor.
Lucy has always battled with her weight but recently the struggle has become more difficult. Just over three years ago, Lucy lost her mother to lung cancer.
Less than a month after that life altering event, Lucy started a college course in event management.
The multiple pressures of grief, work and study began to take their toll to such an extent Lucy would get up in the middle of the night and consume several bars of chocolate just to ease the pain.
“I’ve always been overweight,” says the 24-year-old.
“I was very active as a child but working in the hospitality industry, in pubs and hotels, meant keeping irregular hours and that kind of threw me. I was always working. I was studying too, so sport went out the window.”
Lucy says she had always joked about appearing on Operation Transformation but last year, with some encouragement from her family, she applied for the first time.
“I didn’t think I’d get picked,” she says.
“But then again when I think about it, there might be a few more like me who might be able to relate to my circumstances; 24, three stone overweight, just had a baby and with a very busy lifestyle.
“I have tried diets before,” she continues.
“I’d get there and something would throw me off or distract me. See, I’m a divil for keeping myself busy. For example, I went into my third year in college pregnant, studied hard, had my baby in October and went back to study three weeks later. That’s probably my biggest issue, I don’t really concentrate on what I need to do for myself.”
Lucy is not the only one. A report published earlier this year by theWorld Health Organisation said Europe was heading for an unprecedented explosion in rates of obesity and excess weight.
The study, which looked at 53 of the world’s wealthiest countries, said Ireland was at the forefront of the trend.
It showed 23% of women and 26% of men were currently obese and projected by 2030 those percentages would increase to 57 and 48% respectively.
Those in the health industry are concerned and the rallying cry for this year’s Operation Transformation is to get Ireland to collectively lose “one million pounds”.
As a leader everything I do other people are going to do,” says 44-year-old Dan Kennedy from Beaumont in Dublin.
“If I do it properly, hopefully others will lose the same kind of weight that I’ll hopefully be losing. I have to show the way.”
Dan applied for a spot on the popular show when a friend suggested that he might make a good candidate. At 5ft 11ins and 19st, Dan says that he is “about four or five stone overweight”.
The fact that he turns 45 in April was another motivating factor.
“My Dad passed away when he was 45,” he explains. “If I don’t do it now, it’s just going to be harder to do when I’m 50.”
In many ways, Dan is typical of thousands of Irish men in their mid-40s. As a dapper 25-year-old man about town he was relatively thin.
He played football every week and weight was never an issue.
“I just got lazy when I gave up the football and it just crept on,” he says.
“I mean in my 20s I was around the 12, 13 stone mark but then you put on a few pounds every month and it all adds up. I have no health issues as such. Obviously you’d feel it in your knees, carrying that bit of extra weight but it’s more that I just don’t feel good in myself about having the weight on me.
“I’ve never been on a diet before, but I’m living for this. I’m the kind of person who needs a kick in the arse. I’ll have different challenges, different runs and walks and the like and I have to lead them. I’m looking forward to it. It’s my time now to give it a go.”
Clare is 39-years-old, originally hails from West Cork, but now lives in Newcastlewest, Limerick, with her husband Tom and their two children Liam aged 11 and Caoimhe aged 10.
“I was very sporty when I went to school,” says Clare.
“But back then when you left school and went to college that was it, there was no more sport really. In recent years there’s seems to be an increase in running and cycling but for me I was more into the team sports so I stopped my involvement in that. Then you have your children and you keep up the pound or two and then it goes to a stone and it goes from there.”
While she would diet occasionally the motivation to lose weight was knocked out of her with the death of her 15-year-old son, Darra, four years ago.
“It was a regular weekend,” she recalls of the tragedy. “He had been off training with the county in UL, he had a match Saturday and he just went to bed on Sunday night — the last conversation I had with him was something about his PE gear.
“I went to wake him Monday morning and he had died in his sleep. You don’t pick yourself up easily after that. There was no lead up. It was Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. He had been 15 in November.”
“To be honest, I stopped caring when Darra died,” continues Clare.
“Up until then I suppose I’d check myself every now and then, I’d lose a half stone here or there, but after that I didn’t bother. Your priorities change.”
Clare accepts that some part of the programme might deal with that aspect of her life but she is determined not to let it be the focal point of her story on Operation Transformation.
“Even if they put me on an 18-month programme it wouldn’t change the fact that I miss him,” she says.
“I suppose I see me the way I am now. All of these things make me the way I am; some good things some bad and Darra will always be there, but my weight is something that if I could knock it on the head now, I think I could concentrate on getting the head right.
“I’m hoping to give it my best shot, and I hope people might click on and follow. A bit of support might be needed now and then.” Clare, like all the other candidates, can be fairly sure that people are clicking on already.
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