No limits for Lurgan gym ower Connor Magill helping vulnerable teens with free personal training sessions
Lurgan gym owner and personal trainer Connor Magill tells Maureen Coleman about how he replaced unhealthy addictions with the buzz he gets from fitness and why he's now on a mission to help local young people follow his path to health and happiness
AS GYM-GOERS across the north resume training this week, Lurgan man Connor Magill is all too aware how significant a role a regular fitness regime can play in maintaining good mental health.
The 38-year-old father-of-three, who owns Limitless Fitness gym in the town with his wife Gillian, not only credits exercise for keeping him physically and mentally strong, but for being his salvation.
In his early teens, Connor started to drink cider and beer. But alcohol proved to be a gateway to other drugs including cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine. By his late teens and early 20s, he was struggling at work, his sleep patterns were erratic and he was suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.
Connor realised he had an addictive personality and that if he continued on this path, he would self-destruct. Meeting his wife-to-be and becoming an uncle for the first time helped him to focus on what he really wanted from life. He took up running, then later cross-fit and qualified as a personal trainer. Three years ago, he opened the gym.
He's long given up drugs and hasn't had a drink since 2015, replacing unhealthy addictions with a new buzz – a love for fitness. And now he's on a mission to help local teenagers and young people struggling with their own demons by training them for free once a week with hour-long Believe sessions at his gym.
For Connor, who considers himself blessed that he was able to turn his life around, it's his chance to give something back.
"I had a good upbringing and a grammar school education. I can't blame my childhood or the friends I ran around with for the choices I made," he says.
"I started drinking at 13 with my peers then started smoking weed at 15. From that, I moved onto ecstasy, speed, LSD and cocaine. I was doing drugs three times a week.
"Cannabis made me lazy; I didn't want to leave the house. But alcohol, for me, was the gateway drug. Without it, I wouldn't have taken the other substances.
"When I look back now I realise that my brain wasn't fully developed so taking all that stuff really messed with my head. I was working in fibre glassing but taking days off work. I was so paranoid I couldn't have gone to the barber's for a hair cut on my own, nor to the shop.
"I got depressed and suicidal. I was lethargic all the time. I'd party from Friday to Sunday and wouldn't come round till Thursday. Then it would start all over again."
Between the ages of 18 and 20, Connor's life revolved around his drinking and drug taking, while his mental health continued to deteriorate. Then a number of events took place which made him stop and take a long hard look at himself. A lads' holiday to Gran Canaria left him feeling disconnected from his friends and questioning how he was living his life. His younger sister also had a baby which made him feel quite broody. Then he met Gillian and, within six months, they were living together. Connor knew the time had come to clean up his act.
At school he'd been a keen cross country runner, even winning an under-16s race when he was only 12. With Gillian now expecting their first child, he'd stopped taking drugs but was still drinking a few nights a week. It was seeing a photograph of his beer belly which spurred him on to hit the gym. Running on the treadmill, he felt a buzz and was hooked.
After taking part in the Race Between Bridges and placing well, he joined a local running club, St Peter's, before moving onto the North Belfast Harriers. Running became his new fix and he trained between seven to nine times a week. While training for marathons or competitions, he didn't touch a drop of alcohol – but when injuries set in, he turned back to the booze.
"I told myself I could control it," he says. "But I was kidding myself.
"During that time with the Harriers, I won countless NI titles, senior and intermediate and lots of national titles too. To begin with, I loved running but then it started to become an obsession and was controlling my life. That's what happens when you have an addictive personality."
A knee injury brought him to the gym to try and strengthen the muscles in his lower back and hamstrings. Through another gym-goer, he heard about cross-fit and started to attend classes. At the same time, he was still running, though not as obsessively. He was still drinking too.
Connor was taking people out running with him and when it was mooted that he should become a personal trainer, he dismissed the idea. A lack of confidence stood in his way. But after a while, he decided to give it a go and qualified in Level 2 and Level 3 fitness.
His drinking, however, was still problematic; after a number of drunken accidents, he was at risk of losing everything and everyone he loved. This proved to be the catalyst for another major life change.
"I was so drunk one night, I fell and hit my head," he recalls.
"I'd previously broken my thumb when I'd been drunk. I was always telling myself 'just the one' but I couldn't ever have just the one. That was the problem. I'd been fooling myself for so long."
That was five years ago and Connor hasn't touched a drop since then. He doesn't miss the booze either. After training his wife and transforming her body shape, word of Connor's expertise spread and business started to boom. He gave up his job in fibre-glassing to become a full-time PT and three years ago he and Gillian opened their gym.
Connor is grateful for his life and his second chances and is determined now to stop other young people from making the wrong choices. Every Saturday morning between 8am and 9am he throws open the doors of the gym and trains teenagers for free under the banner Believe. It's his way of showing his gratitude and giving back.
"Everyone has their own struggles; be it family, work, money," he says.
"I tell them my story and they can relate to me. There's no judgement here; that's one of the reasons the gym is so successful. I've been down that same path so they feel comfortable with me.
"It was tough when the gyms were closed because a lot of these kids opened up about their mental health problems, then they had nowhere to go. I'm delighted the gym is back open again, not just for those who use it, but for my own mental health.
"My family will always come first but training keeps me grounded. Without it, I'd be totally lost and would probably slip back into my old ways.
"It's given me the confidence to believe in myself and if I can help even one person, then I'll have done my job right."
:: There are still some places available for teens in the Saturday morning Believe group at Limitless Fitness, 99 Lower North Street, in Lurgan from 8am to 9am. More info at Tinyurl.com/limitlessfitnessfb and @Connor.magill.fitness on Instagram