Meet Ire­land’s fittest fam­ily

The Cum­mins fam­ily from Tip­per­ary ran, climbed and ‘bog jogged’ to bag the 2016 ti­tle

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Sheila Way­man Kite Entertainment and An­imo TV hope to do a call-out over the com­ing months for those in­ter­ested in tak­ing part in a po­ten­tial fifth se­ries of Ire­land’s Fittest Fam­ily. sway­man@irish­times.com

‘Gru­elling” hardly de­scribes the chal­lenges set in the tele­vised search for Ire­land’s Fittest

Fam­ily. The RTÉ se­ries tests all-round phys­i­cal and men­tal strength in a way that few sports do.

Any­body who watched the fi­nal of the fourth se­ries last month could not but have been moved by the ag­o­nis­ing fail­ures of the ex­hausted fa­ther, Jim Cum­mins, to scale the last ob­sta­cle in the com­pe­ti­tion, a near-ver­ti­cal 4.3m-high ramp. Fi­nally, his three adult chil­dren who were al­ready at the top were able to reach down, grab him and haul him up to vic­tory, beat­ing the McCarthys from Co Clare.

The Cum­mins fam­ily plans to use the win­ner-takes-all ¤15,000 prize money for a hol­i­day. They are not, how­ever, ones for loung­ing around a pool – their trip will re­volve around wa­ter­sports or some other type of ac­tiv­ity, as that’s what they do on fam­ily hol­i­days. Even when the cam­eras are long gone they will be liv­ing up to their ti­tle.

So what does it take to slog it out over five rounds of com­pe­ti­tion, filmed over eight weeks, and be acclaimed as Ire­land’s fittest fam­ily?

We caught up with the Cum­mins fam­ily on their farm in Ra­healty, out­side Thurles, Co Tip­per­ary to pro­file each of the four team mem­bers, to find out the se­crets of their suc­cess and to hear their ad­vice for other fam­i­lies who might fancy their chances in the 2017 com­pe­ti­tion.

Ciara Cum­mins(19)

Oc­cu­pa­tion: Stu­dent of ath­letic train­ing and ther­apy at Dublin City Univer­sity. Main sport: Mid­dle-dis­tance run­ning, mostly 1,500m, cross-coun­try and steeple­chase.

The youngest of five chil­dren, Ciara was the one who en­tered the fam­ily in the com­pe­ti­tion with­out telling any­body.

“We had watched loads of dif­fer­ent se­ries and al­ways en­joyed it and I thought it would be a bit of fun to en­ter,” she says. “I saw an ad and thought, why watch it again this year when we could be in it?”

She had to write an es­say about her fam­ily on the ap­pli­ca­tion form and was in­ter­viewed by tele­phone be­fore they were called for a fit­ness test. The top 12 fam­i­lies were se­lected for the show, which is co­pro­duced for RTÉ by Kite Entertainment and An­imo TV.

While there are seven in the Cum­mins fam­ily and all take part in dif­fer­ent sports, there was never any doubt which four would be com­pet­ing. Ciara is the sporti­est of the three sis­ters and they knew it would be an ad­van­tage to have three males mak­ing up the team. But the oth­ers – mother Pa­tri­cia and sis­ters Jen­nifer and Edel – all played their part when it came to train­ing and lo­gis­tics. Ciara re­grets they were kept off cam­era and not al­lowed to at­tend the events.

“Es­pe­cially Mam, she was the back­bone of the whole thing and no­body ever saw her. She would be the one who had to wash all our clothes and get our bags ready be­fore we went – a typ­i­cal Ir­ish mammy.”

There was only about three weeks be­tween know­ing they had been ac­cepted and the first round, so that didn’t leave a lot of time for train­ing. And any­way, they could only guess what might lie ahead.

“They [the pro­duc­tion com­pany] were al­ways very se­cre­tive about things and they wouldn’t tell us where the chal­lenges were on un­til about two days be­fore,” Ciara ex­plains. “They didn’t want us to find out what the chal­lenge would be.”

The Cum­mins were de­lighted to just get through the first round and then be as­signed their coach, for­mer Cork All Star camo­gie cap­tain, Anna Geary. Then they started fo­cus­ing on team­work, prac­tis­ing clam­ber­ing over a con­tainer on the farm and pulling heavy loads.

“Re­ally we just worked on our weak­nesses,” she says. “I was try­ing to do a lot of pull-ups at home. Mark is good at that so he was try­ing to help me and I was mak­ing Henry go on runs with me – im­prov­ing his en­durance.”

No changes were re­quired to their di­ets be­cause they gen­er­ally eat fairly healthily, says Ciara. “We would al­ways have a good three meals in the day. At din­ner time we al­ways sit around to­gether – it wouldn’t be just get­ting what­ever you want when­ever. We would al­ways have our spuds.”

The hard­est part of the com­pe­ti­tion? “Def­i­nitely for me it was the day we were in Cahir and I had to do the fe­male race. I was ab­so­lutely wrecked. I had to pull this sleigh with three straw bales on it. It was so heavy and it was mov­ing inches. I could just hear Anna, my dad and my two broth­ers shout­ing me on and if it wasn’t for them I don’t know if I would have ever fin­ished it.”

The best bit? “Spend­ing time with your fam­ily. I think we bonded – it wasn’t just the four of us, it was all seven of us. You can win things with the team or on your own in­di­vid­u­ally but it was spe­cial to do it as a fam­ily.”

Ad­vice to other fam­i­lies? “Work on team­work; it is a lot to do with strategy.” Nearly all 12 fam­i­lies are as fit as each other, Ciara adds, so it is “how you un­der­take the task and work your head to do it the most ef­fi­cient way pos­si­ble” that makes the dif­fer­ence.

Jim Cum­mins (57)

Oc­cu­pa­tion: Til­lage farmer Main sports: Run­ning and cy­cling

It’s great for fit­ness to have a phys­i­cally ac­tive job, Jim ac­knowl­edges, but a down­side was that the film­ing of the se­ries dur­ing the sum­mer co­in­cided with the busiest time on the farm.

Another bonus is that his sons Henry and Mark help him on the farm, as well as run­ning their own mo­tor re­pairs and tyre busi­ness, which means they are used to work­ing to­gether. “We could read each other’s minds. We are just so used to one another and that was a ma­jor help.”

The fam­ily has al­ways par­tic­i­pated in sport as well and do lo­cal 5km runs to­gether. He and his wife Pa­tri­cia are keen cy­clists who have done the Ring of Kerry char­ity cy­cle sev­eral times.

As par­ents, one or other of them al­ways tried to be on the side­lines when any of their chil­dren were tak­ing part in sport, be it hockey, camo­gie, ath­let­ics or rugby.

Their train­ing for this com­pe­ti­tion didn’t in­volve any­thing out of the or­di­nary, he says, be­cause “we were afraid of get­ting in­jured. We did a bit of swim­ming, run­ning and hill run­ning; we did hang on the bar on and off but we didn’t want to do it too much.”

The hard­est part of the com­pe­ti­tion? “The tyre pull in the quarry in Tip­per­ary. We nearly hurt our­selves that was so hard – we didn’t ex­pect it to be as hard as it was. We did a bad job on it first time and we changed our mind and had to do it dif­fer­ently half­way through.”

He also men­tions the Ja­cob’s Lad­der in the semi-fi­nal. “That was very, very phys­i­cal, to pull your­self at speed up that height.” What’s more, he is afraid of heights.

“All those com­pe­ti­tions are fine but when you have to do them at speed, if you make a mis­take you are gone.”

What about that last ramp in the fi­nal? Did it cross his mind he might not be able to do it? “No, I was go­ing to get there some­how. I would never live it down if I didn’t.”

The best bit? “It was great the way we worked to­gether as a team. I must ad­mire the kids for the way they dis­cussed ev­ery­thing, no ar­gu­ments.”

Ad­vice to oth­ers? “It is harder than you think. You have to be cross-fit and re­ally able to work to­gether. We had a good coach in Anna Geary – her plans were ex­cel­lent.”

Mark Cum­mins (24)

Oc­cu­pa­tion: Me­chanic Main sport: Rugby, play­ing for Thurles RFC

By the time they knew they were in the com­pe­ti­tion, it was prob­a­bly too late, says

The true foun­da­tion of their suc­cess was how their mother spent so much time tak­ing the five of them to sports as chil­dren. It wasn’t the month’s train­ing be­fore it, but the years and years of hard work that got them there

Mark, to do fit­ness train­ing. But work­ing in a phys­i­cal job, play­ing rugby, run­ning and bit of horserid­ing keep him in good shape.

“It was more strategy and how to get on to­gether that we re­ally worked at.” Con­tain­ers had come up in pre­vi­ous com­pe­ti­tions and “you are not go­ing to be jump­ing up on them on your own”, he points out. But the true foun­da­tion of their suc­cess, he be­lieves, was how their mother spent so much time tak­ing the five of them to sports as chil­dren.

“That is re­ally what made the dif­fer­ence. It wasn’t the month’s train­ing be­fore it, but years and years of hard work is what ac­tu­ally got us there.”

The fact that the com­pe­ti­tion clashed with har­vest­ing meant they had to work re­ally hard to fit it in, he points out. The night be­fore the round in Cahir, he, Jim and Henry were work­ing un­til 2.30am.

“It prob­a­bly im­pacted our per­for­mance be­cause we didn’t go that well at the tyres,” he says. Ciara, who had been sent to bed, “re­ally pulled it out of the bag for us that day. It was the women’s run that day and she did re­ally well in that.”

The hard­est part of the com­pe­ti­tion? “A lot of things were hard. The ramp [at the end of the fi­nal] I sup­pose was the hard­est and the most im­por­tant thing you had to com­plete. If you can’t get up that quick enough, it will de­cide whether you win or lose.”

He went up first and made it at the sec­ond at­tempt. “Once I got up I was very re­lieved; I knew I could lean down and catch Henry and he would be well able to get up. Af­ter that the two of us would be able to pull ev­ery­one up.

“To get Dad up was very dif­fi­cult be­cause he was so tired at that stage. We were get­ting ner­vous our­selves. We strug­gled to get him up but we still man­aged it.”

The best bit? “Just get­ting on to­gether” – stress­ing that he means all seven in the fam­ily, not just the four of them who were filmed. Noth­ing, he adds, beats do­ing some­thing that you love to­gether as a fam­ily.

Ad­vice to oth­ers? “I would en­cour­age any fam­ily to do it. You wouldn’t re­alise what you are ca­pa­ble of un­til you go and do it.”

Henry Cum­mins (26)

Oc­cu­pa­tion: Me­chanic Main sport: Horserid­ing

Henry’s first re­ac­tion when he heard Ciara had en­tered them was how much time they would have to put into it, con­sid­er­ing it was har­vest­ing sea­son. He ac­knowl­edges that his youngest sis­ter was prob­a­bly the leader to get them out train­ing but “when it came to events, ev­ery­thing was dis­cussed be­tween the four of us with Anna [Geary, the coach]”. And he also says there were no rows: “Fun­nily enough we all got on well to­gether.”

The hard­est part of the com­pe­ti­tion? “I think the most dif­fi­cult part was the fi­nal it­self. It was very drain­ing af­ter the pull of the loaded trailer and then to get over the con­tain­ers. We were all killed by the time we got to the ramp.”

The next most dif­fi­cult thing was hav­ing to keep quiet about the re­sults be­tween the end of film­ing in Au­gust and the screen­ing of the fi­nal on De­cem­ber 18th. He also found it “em­bar­rass­ing” watch­ing it all back.

The best bit? “Be­ing able to get out and do the chal­lenges but the win­ning at the end was the big­gest en­joy­ment. To stand at the top of that ramp and say we have the ti­tle of the fittest fam­ily of Ire­land. It means a lot.”

Ad­vice to oth­ers? “Go in with ev­ery­thing you’ve got. It’s very en­joy­able.”

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: BRENDA FITZSI­MONS AND KYRAN O’BRIEN

Above, the Cum­mins fam­ily of Thurles. From left, Edel, Jen­nifer, Pa­tri­cia, Mark, Henry, Ciara and Jim. Right, the four fam­ily mem­bers who rep­re­sented the fam­ily and won the tile of Ire­land’s Fittest Fam­ily – Mark, Henry, Jim and Ciara.

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