Special Olympics athletes a source of inspiration to Brendan McNeice

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Long-standing Special Olympics volunteer and founding member of Neptune's Special Olympic Club in Belfast Brendan McNeice

Brendan McNeice pictured with Special Olympic athletes from around the world at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi
Gail Bell

Belfast Special Olympics volunteer Brendan McNeice with Team Ireland volunteers Michelle Meehan and Fiona Kennedy at the Abu Dhabi World Games


Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

During the week, I get up at around 7am and once I’m showered and dressed, it’s a quick cuppa before taking the dog for a short walk and then heading to work.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

Usually, just have a cup of tea and some toast.


A sandwich or wrap of some sort. If I’m feeling healthy, I will add in some fruit.

Evening meal?

I’m not a fussy eater, so anything goes. My partner, Angela, is a great cook and sometimes she even lets me loose in the kitchen. Angela is coeliac so, to avoid gluten, I find it much easier to cook from fresh ingredients – which naturally means healthier eating.


Is nutrition important to you?

Yes, I think as you get older you become more aware of the important link between nutrition and general health and fitness. This is a message we push with the athletes in our club (Neptune’s Special Olympics Club) through the Special Olympics Healthy Athlete programme which includes sessions covering all aspects of health, such as diet and nutrition. I suppose it is fair to say that this information and advice has an influence on us volunteers, as well.


Best meal ever?

When on holiday in Crete, one particular dish, beef stifado, stood out above the rest. I do have to say, though, my very best ‘best meal ever’ will always be the fry my mother made every Saturday afternoon for most of my life.


Do you have a guilty pleasure?

A hot and spicy beef chow mein from the local Chinese takeaway.


Have you ever been on a diet?

If so, how did it go? I have never been on a diet. I am very lucky and have never had an issue with my weight.


Do you take health supplements?

I would occasionally take some multivitamins but nothing on a regular basis.


How do you relax?

I am pretty much always on the go and I’m content with that. I find walking the dog is relaxing and also sitting down to a good comedy show. I think laughter is a great way to wind down.


Teetotal or tipple?

Teetotal mostly but the odd tipple can be therapeutic.


Stairs or lift?

I would say a mixture of both. If it is only a few floors, I think the stairs can be quicker than the lift. I would also, on occasion, consciously take the stairs just to get my heart moving.


Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I walk every day with the dog and, at lunchtimes, I will either go for a walk or a cycle – I make regular use of the Belfast Bikes to get in an easy 15-20 minutes of cardio. I did a lot of cycling in recent years and recently took part in the FEARManagh triathlon, which involves 35km of cycling, running and kayaking. I had to pull out of a recent triathlon due to a neck injury and I haven’t managed to get back into proper training again yet – but I hope to do so soon.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

Exercise your heart every day.


On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I would say a modest six. I feel that a 7.5 would be a reasonable place to be.


Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I haven’t tried any alternative therapies but I would gladly give one a go.


Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

I always enjoyed PE. I loved playing hurling in my early years of secondary school but I had atrocious eyesight from an early age. Unfortunately, wearing glasses and hurling were not a good combination.


Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

Yes – about five years ago, I had a bit of an issue with my heart. It was easily sorted at the time but it did make me take stock and really made me make some adjustments to my lifestyle, with regards to diet and exercise.


Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

The advice I was given following my heart issue was that you don’t need to go overboard with exercising to benefit the heart. It was recommended to exercise at a level that gets the heart rate up to around 70 per cent of the maximum heart rate (there’s a calculation to work this out in relation to your age) and to do it regularly. This is the optimum level to benefit the heart and can be achieved with moderate exercise. To go beyond this level will not bring any additional benefit. I think this made the prospect of regular exercise seem less of a challenge.


Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness/attitude to life?

Special Olympics athletes are a particular source of inspiration to me. To see them respond to their coaches’ guidance and to observe the difference as they attend weekly training is really inspiring.


What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

Bedtime, for me, is generally around midnight. I find that between six and seven hours sleep is enough for me.


Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I think most of us have used the old clichés such as 'Make the most of it, you never know what’s around the corner' and 'It makes you wonder why we worry about stupid things'. The way I see it is simple: life is short, no matter what age we live to. With this in mind, I am spending more and more time in the 'Make the most of it' frame of mind...

Brendan is a volunteer at the Special Olympics Ireland Winter Games which had been due to take place in Northern Ireland for the first time this month but which have now been postponed due to the coronavirus.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access