Local gym owner and kickboxing coach Billy O’Sullivan is striving to help people with little or no experience of fitness training as well as service users from Waterford’s Brook House
As part of Waterford Mental Health Association’s recent awareness week, an open coffee morning was held at the Brook House facility on the Cork Road, where the ongoing effectiveness of mental health day hospital and support services was highlighted.Among those to attend and share in the message of promoting good mental health were former Waterford Senior Hurling manager Derek McGrath and local gym owner and kickboxing coach Billy O’ Sullivan. They were joined by local service users who heard about the importance of socialisation in combatting isolation.
Those in attendance also heard that there is a range of supports available locally to those who may require help.The coffee morning also marked 25 years since Brook House opened its doors as a mental health day hospital.Now, Brook House, which caters for those over 18 who are referred to the facility, deals with 35 to 40 people daily and has around 900 people on its books in total. In highlighting the importance of socialisation, service users are encouraged to take part in bingo, learn about and participate in relaxation techniques or play board games, for example. Trips are organised to various locations in Tramore, Kilkenny and Wexford.
Food and refreshments are provided, and the annual Christmas dinner (held in the Viking Ramada Hotel) is always a very happy occasion. The Brook House minibus can also transport people into the centre and home again (including outlying rural areas) during their Monday to Friday daytime hours of operation.
On site, users have access to a multi-disciplinary team such as to Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, Social Workers and Addiction Counsellors. Nurses provide one to one support for clients on a daily basis, either face to face or over the phone.
As a result of the recent talk, Billy O’Sullivan is delighted that some of the Brook House service users have now become regulars at his gym in the Waterford Business Park. On a recent visit to the gym, some of those service users shared their experiences. Stephen Kavanagh (34) from Clonea Power, who has always been interested in fitness training, says he loves the positive atmosphere at the gym. “You’re not thinking about other things as you’re concentrating on what you’re doing,” he explained. He attends each Tuesday morning and hopes to also start attending on Saturdays as well.
Nicholas O’Neill from Kilmacthomas suffers from psychosis. He was also present at the recent talk at Brook House and was immediately interested in what Billy had to say. “Billy spoke to us about what he’s doing in the gym and how he looks after people,” Nicholas explained. “It gives a great lift by coming to Billy’s gym,” he adds. Before he embarked on his new fitness journey, Nicholas didn’t do much exercise and rarely went out on his own. “If anyone is suffering from psychosis or anxiety, please talk,” he says.
“There’s help out there, but people need to ask for it. Billy and Brook House have given me a lifeline and a reason to carry on. We’re not just friends, we’re family – we look out for each other.” Nicholas says he is also very grateful for the help of his family, friends and neighbours in Kilmacthomas. “Even to just smile at someone is something lovely,” he says. Raymond O’Regan is another Brook House service user who now attends Billy’s gym.He has experienced difficult times in his life, especially the tragic death of his youngest son and the breakdown of his marriage.“I go to Brook House five days a week and I talk to the nurses who are very friendly to everyone. We’re very well looked after,” he explained.
“Brook House has opened so many doors. I now have so many different places to go that I’m rarely at home.”
He says Billy’s talk immediately reignited his interest in fitness training. “I picked up on it straight away and said, ‘I’m going up there’,” he explained. Previously, Raymond was an avid weightlifter and also enjoyed indoor football. However, he ceased such activities due to his back problems.Now, he is keen to keep active and aims to push himself as much as possible during his sessions at Billy’s gym.
In addition to helping the service users from Brook House, Billy O’Sullivan is also keen to help others who have little or no experience of fitness training.He strives to create an atmosphere which isn’t intimidating.
Emily Moore didn’t have any experience of attending a gym. As she was approaching 48, she decided she wanted to engage in new exercises to “keep ticking over”. She acknowledges that it can be dauting to take the first step.Now, she usually comes twice a week to Billy’s gym and says she has experienced huge benefits.
“It’s great to have this routine. It keeps my body ticking over and keeps the mind active. It has helped me tremendously,” she says. Jim Farrell (65) didn’t have previous experience either but was keen to get more active.
“I really enjoy coming along,” says Jim, who adds that he feels a lot better and healthier afterwards.
“You can go at your own pace, but Billy will push you if he knows you can do it.” He tries to gradually increase the weights he lifts to make himself stronger and says he enjoys the social element also. Suzanne Carroll played Gaelic games when she was younger. Now in her early fifties, she was keen to engage in challenging exercises and started attending Billy’s gym almost two years ago. “I was feeling unfit and I wanted to get back on the right track,” she explained. “It was hard to get motivated to come in. Now, I don’t even think about it, I just come in and do it. I can’t put into words what it’s doing for me – mentally and physically. I feel so much better.”
Suzanne says part of the appeal is the warm and friendly atmosphere which Billy has created and the encouragement which he gives. Emily, Jim and Suzanne now regularly train as part of a group and are eager to continue their respective fitness journeys.
Open to everyone
Billy himself says that he’s hugely passionate about helping people return to fitness and helping them to overcome any obstacles which life may present. “Just because they reach a certain age some people think they’re finished – they’re not. There are plenty of things you can do. It doesn’t have to be coming to the gym, it could be theatre or art.”He continued: “People often say ‘I’m too old, I can’t do it’ but a lot of that is in the mind. I don’t believe in the word ‘can’t’ but if people tell you often enough that ‘you can’t’, you will actually start to believe that.”
Speaking about his talk at Brook House which clearly touched many people, Billy says he “spoke from the heart” when he visited. Having lost family members to suicide himself, he says he can empathise with people who are experiencing tough situations.He has also experienced health struggles, including mini strokes and a minor heart attack.“Being a small person, I went through stuff and could have ended up in Brook House myself – being bullied, pressurised by people, being laughed at,” he explained.“The one thing that kept me going was my attitude to life – I love life and I love helping people.”Billy has been training people for over 40 years and turns 70 in May. “And I still say that I’m training old people!!” he laughs.
“We’re not just a kickboxing club, we’re a social club that is open to anyone who wants to come along. Everybody treated with respect.” Billy believes it’s important to always retain a positive outlook on life and, possessing such a bright disposition, he certainly practices what he preaches. Already, he says he has seen a difference in the service users from Brook House since they started attending his gym.
“Many people just need someone to talk to, someone to smile at them and they need to start believing in themselves,” he says.He hopes to install a coffee machine within the gym so participants can sit down and have a chat after exercising in a relaxed and non-judgmental atmosphere.
Judging by the air of positivity and the ‘can-do’ attitude which exists at the gym, it’s clear that Billy’s efforts are having a profound impact on the lives of local people.
For more information, contact Billy O’Sullivan on 085-8589902.