Orlaith McAllister: Since turning 40 I feel the strongest I've ever felt
Belfast mother of two and former Big Brother contestant Orlaith McAllister decided, at age 40, to train seriously – now she's the strongest she has ever been, physically and mentally
WHEN former fashion model and Big Brother contestant Orlaith McAllister turned 40 in April, she celebrated the occasion with a special gift to herself – a qualification in personal training.
The mum-of-two from north Belfast had set herself a target last year, that by the time she reached her 40th birthday, she would be in a position to work as a fully trained fitness instructor.
Under the guidance of Alpha Training NI – a fitness training company – Orlaith completed a Level 3 PT Diploma, a combination of practical, theory and course work. Her dream now is to open a small studio space for women, particularly those who find a large gym environment intimidating.
As a former model, whose face and figure graced magazine covers and who made regular appearances on the catwalk, Orlaith always looked after herself, exercising several times a week and sticking to a mainly healthy diet. But when she underwent surgery in London six years ago to have breast implants removed, she decided to start focusing on making her body strong again.
“After the third set of implants I had in ruptured and I had surgery to have them removed, I wanted to let my body heal and didn't want to go down that route again,” Orlaith, who recently got engaged, explains.
“At the same time, I wanted to be able to look at my body and feel happy with it so that's really when I started getting into fitness more.
“I've always been naturally slim but I wanted to make my body strong. I've given birth to two children; I think the body is an amazing thing. I wanted to look after it as much as possible.”
To begin with, Orlaith, who has two children, Eva, 12 and 10-year-old Anthony, used Power Plates to keep in shape – high-speed workouts using vibrations to work on the muscles.
When Power Plates became less popular and available, she joined a number of different gyms, mixing classes with one-to-one personal training sessions. As her body became increasingly stronger, she found her mood lifting too and, mentally, she felt more alert.
“I was getting such a buzz out of training,” she says. “I loved seeing my body changing shape, getting more defined muscles in my arms and legs and developing strong abs. But mentally, I definitely felt stronger too.”
This was to help when early last year Orlaith was involved in a serious road accident. Her children were in the car at the time but all three walked away uninjured.
"I feel the strongest I've ever felt in my life since I began training properly every day," she says. "I am physically very strong, but also in my mind as well and that definitely helped when I had the car accident last February. The car was a write-off but thankfully, we were all unharmed. It did shake me up though because anything could've happened.
"In a way it was a big turning point for me but I'd already built up the strength before the accident happened. I think I handled it a lot better than I would've done beforehand because I was in a good place mentally.”
The accident prompted Orlaith to work even harder on her fitness. She took up Hot Yoga to improve her core strength and started to attend weekly circuits classes. Having worked out with several personal trainers, she felt confident enough to go it alone.
When one PT, Kevan Jordan, spotted her working out in a gym, he approached her and asked her to take part in a fitness photo-shoot. That proved to be the catalyst to spur her on towards a fitness qualification.
"I did feel a bit nervous about doing the photo-shoot,” Orlaith says. “I was used to doing fashion shoots but this was very different. I just had to oil my body up and not focus so much on my hair and make-up.
“When I put the photos up on my social media, I got a lovely response. But I also got private messages from women, asking me for advice on losing weight, toning up, the best exercises to do.
“I didn't expect that type of reaction and that's when I thought that maybe I could teach fitness myself and help other women to feel good about themselves. There are women who might fear a big gym environment or have just had babies and need a wee boost and I'd love to be able to help them.
“I'd love to open an intimate female-only studio where they don't feel any pressure and can come along and feel comfortable about training. That's the ambition now.”
After completing an intensive Level 3 course in personal training, Orlaith says she was exhausted but excited about getting started with her own business. In the meantime she still sets aside time every day to train at GymCo, in Belfast's Cityside retail park, where she combines cardio, legs and upper body work-outs.
“I really feel now like I'm in control of my body and I love being this strong,” she says. “I had a personal best recently with my dead lifts, lifting 80kgs. I had thought about entering a fitness competition but I'm quite happy with the way I am now and don't want to get too muscular. For me, the main thing now is maintaining this strength.”
The star of BBC NI shows Beauty Queen and Single and Hot Right Now eats a healthy diet, consisting mainly of fish, vegetables and fruit but says she doesn't deprive herself if she fancies a treat, like chocolate or a Chinese takeaway. She drinks moderately – Corona beer is her favourite tipple – but never at home.
“I'm not a wine drinker although I do like the occasional gin,” she says. “I only really drink about once a month if I'm going out but, to be honest, I'm normally too busy.”
While raising her children, working towards becoming a personal trainer and appearing in several local television shows, Orlaith, who previously dated property developer Gary McCausland, put romance on the back-burner. Then out of the blue last year she met a Belfast man called Neil and the pair started dating. Just last month he popped the question and a delighted Orlaith said yes.
“I couldn't have done my course without his support,” she says. “He did the school runs for me when I was training. He's been so encouraging in helping me to follow my dream.
“I know some people might find turning 40 a bit daunting but I totally embraced it. I'm not worried at all about growing older. I have a cousin who died 12 years ago when she was just 34 so I appreciate how precious life is. I have two wonderful kids, an amazing family and boyfriend and now I'm a qualified personal trainer.
“I wake up every day feeling very lucky. I can honestly say I'm happier and healthier than I've ever been.”