Some Lessons from Invincable Fitness

I wonder if you have ever heard an item on the radio or the television that completely blew you away with its inspirational content?

Ray D’Arcy

Earlier this week I had to travel to a meeting in Dublin and, on my return journey, I tuned into an afternoon radio show on RTE Radio 1 called the Ray D’Arcy Show.

Ray, the presenter, had invited 3 ladies on from a gym in Waterford called ‘Invincable Fitness.’ The owner, Laura, was first and she spoke of this unique gym that was created to meet the needs of anyone who came through the door. A programme would be created depending on what your needs or abilities were. They welcomed people with disabilities and mobility problems; they welcomed people of different shapes and sizes, and their specialised staff set about the task of getting people moving and motivated who other people seemed to disregard or view as too big a challenge.

I loved the way this gym came into being. Laura has a cousin called Jenny, who has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user. While Laura loved sport and athletics growing up, every time she tried to take Jenny to join in a club or activity she found they were unable to offer that possibility. She studied business and got involved in the fitness industry while she was doing her studies. She spoke with the gym she worked in about creating these opportunities for people who would love to be active but faced extra challenges. They weren’t able to help her, so she set up on her own with staff who shared her passion and they started to welcome all sorts of people.

Two of the clients who use the gym came on the show to speak of their experience. One lady was blind and had a rare condition that meant she had many medical challenges. She was treated initially with steroids when her rare condition developed in her twenties and she gained 6 stone as she received her intense treatment. She was persuaded, reluctantly, to go and try this gym and has found staff who walk with her through her programmes that are tailored to building up her strength and mobility and improving her balance.

The other guest was an older lady who had suffered disc damage to her neck after many years working at a desk. Her posture and back were affected to the point where she could hardly work until the team started to work with her. They identified some exercises she could do and worked on building up her upper body strength and movement until she was able to walk again and avoid the very hazardous surgery which many felt was her only option.

Both of these clients spoke about the powerful impact this gym and community had on their mental health. Laura, the owner, spoke about the culture and atmosphere they were invested in creating. It was an atmosphere that communicated to people from the moment they checked out the website, to the moment they crossed the door, to the moment they joined an activity; that, whoever they were, they were welcome and they mattered.

Although I’m not a member of a gym at present, I do remember being part of one in my early 30’s. It was full of beautiful people who seemed to know exactly what they were doing and exuded an air of confidence and success. And then there was me, a potbellied clergyman who was invariably on a different move to everyone else in the classes! I was the one with the baggy shorts and the sweaty tshirt snorting and panting while the others sipped water and glided through their programmes with minimum fuss. It was hard to feel that I blended in.

And, yet, that seems to be at the heart of this Invincable Fitness centre. You don’t have to be the same as everyone else. Whoever you are, and however complex your needs, our specialists will make this place work for you. The clients spoke of a unique space in which they felt valued and affirmed for who they were. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do what other people can, what’s important is that you come and engage at the level that you can. As you move and grow in confidence you will see change taking place and the staff are there to oversee that in a safe way and make it possible.

It sounded like such a safe space for everyone to come and find community and friendship. If you were having a bad day you could say that was how it was and find support and a listening ear.

Imagine if churches could be like this! So many people have had bad experiences and felt damaged by the church. People have been sharp and unkind, maybe without meaning to be so, and it has left its mark. People feel self conscious about the wounds and scars they carry from their life’s experience. Maybe there has been a bereavement or a marriage has broken down. Maybe we feel afflicted by anxiety or depression, or we have an addiction. Maybe we are full of questions and doubts about everything from suffering to the apparent contradictions between science and faith and we don’t know where to go with these struggles.

I wonder can the ‘church without walls’ learn from the Invincable gym? Where no such facility existed, the owner didn’t moan about that but set about creating a culture that made it possible. Her own enthusiasm and passion drew others to form that specialised team that’s at the heart of their work. They love sharing their knowledge and seeing transformation in people’s lives and in their headspace. They have an amazing vision to create this blue print which they have seen flourishing, in every community right across the island of Ireland.

Can we share the hope we have found in Jesus Christ with that same spirit of openness and generosity?  We don’t all have to like worshipping the same way. We won’t always find perfection. It will be messy and there will be rough edges, but surely there is a place in the loving heart of God for all of us who turn to Him no matter how damaged or complex we might be?What can we do to embrace rather than exclude and offer that possibility to all who cross our threshold?

Looking forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,


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