KEEPING fit for the duration of the hit RTÉ Sunday night TV show Dancing With The Stars is the least of Peter Stringer’s worries.
The former Munster and Ireland rugby international says he’s addicted to fitness, working out in the gym and eating healthily.
But the competitive RTÉ dance show is still a huge step outside Peter’s comfort zone. Describing himself as shy, he says he never used to go on the dance floor apart from very briefly on his wedding day.
“I don’t drink so I never had those drunken moments where you let yourself go,” says Peter.
“Dancing was probably my biggest nightmare. I was approached to do Dancing With The Stars a couple of times. This time, the time was right and my wife, Debbie, said I should go for it. She said I’ll face no bigger challenge in my life.
“If I learn how to dance at the end of it, then it will certainly be a case of getting over one of the biggest hurdles thrown at me.”
Peter, whose weekly professional dance partner is Ksenia Zsikhotska, originally from the Ukraine, says the challenge is getting easier.
“I can learn the routines. It’s just about having that confidence to let myself go and to dance like nobody is watching me. I’m finding a bit of rhythm.”
Being asked to dance in front of the camera “doing 20 minutes of free style dancing without music, for producers and choreographers was very uncomfortable. They were standing in front of me to see what I had.”
Now, Peter feels he has come a long way from being a self-conscious dancer.
“I’ve really enjoyed the process. It’s challenging and tough but if I didn’t do it, I would have had regrets.
“The last few years, when I was playing rugby, I gave myself every opportunity to play for as long as I could. I looked after myself. I didn’t want to have any regrets. And with this, I don’t want any regrets.
“It’s so easy to say ‘no’ to a lot of things in life. It’s about being brave and putting yourself out there in an environment you’re not used to.
“I’m delighted I’m doing it, although it’s not easy. I want to be pushed and to make sure I’m doing the right thing, when I perform on Sunday nights to hundreds of thousands of people.”
The way Peter looks at Dancing With The Stars is that he’s playing a character.
“You get into it that way. I know from watching these things that if you see someone who is uncomfortable, it makes the viewer feel uncomfortable too.
“But if you fully embrace it, the pink suit, the sequins or whatever you’re wearing, the steps and the character you’re playing, you can own it on the night.”
Keeping fit is second nature to Peter. What is hard is learning the steps each week, but he says it’s getting easier.
“I’m still doing my own training. I’m in the gym every seven days a week. I love it. That is what I have taken from professional rugby. It’s not a chore for me.
“I knew when I finished playing rugby, I’d end up training more. I’m passionate about training and I’m addicted to it. I’m obsessed with living a healthy lifestyle.
“Normally, I’d spend three or four hours in the gym. With my schedule at the moment, I would do one and a half hours. Some evenings, if I finish rehearsing early, I might spend another two hours in the gym.”
A qualified personal trainer, Peter is doing some training with Fair City’s Clelia Kelly, who is on Dancing With The Stars.
“She wants to get fit so I’ve taken her under my wing. I haven’t gone into personal training full time because of this show. But I would definitely like to work in fitness, nutrition and the performance side of things.”
Peter, who retired from rugby last year, had a particularly long career at the game, playing professionally until he was 40.
“I can compete with guys who are 18 years of age,” he adds.
Peter would like to bring fitness to the corporate world. “No matter what job you’re in, you need to look after yourself. There’s a huge area in the corporate and business world, making sure the employees are in the best possible shape.
“Whether you arrive at your job in professional sport or a tech job, everyone should want you to be at the top of your game with the right fitness levels to perform the job you’re doing.”
Having spent 20 years in a professional environment focused on fitness, Peter says he’d “love to pass that knowledge on and educate people on how to do it.”
Asked for diet tips, he says he tends to stay away from that word.
“People who want to get in shape for something in six to eight weeks’ time tend to go on extreme diets. They may reach their goal but a lot of these diets aren’t sustainable.
“It’s about doing things slowly, finding out what works for you and making sure it’s a lasting change, a lifestyle thing.
“If you want to eat something nice, then have it — all in moderation.
“I have worked with professional sports people who have no idea of the values of the food they’re putting into their bodies. That amazes me. It’s just basic education.”
Peter and his wife have separate meals, each doing their own cooking. “I know what I need to eat to maintain, gain or lose weight,” he explains. “I eat from a numbers point of view rather than enjoyment.
“Yes, I enjoy my food but I know exactly the calorific value of everything I eat. I like to be in control of what I’m putting into my body.
“Of course, you go out and have dinner in a restaurant and it’s difficult to factor in what is in it.”
Peter likes to eat chicken or turkey and favours the healthy fats in salmon, avocado and nuts.
As well as protein, he makes sure that a meal also consists of 50 grams of fibre, found in vegetables.
Living in Tower with Debbie and their 21-month-old son, Noah, Peter says he misses the family now that he’s in Dublin for the duration of Dancing With The Stars.
Noah sees his dad on TV and tries to “replicate” his moves!
Would Peter like to see his son playing rugby? “I’d love him to do it. Whatever makes him happy.”
Maybe even dancing!
Peter made it through week five last Sunday night, winning praise for his dance to A Thousand Years by Christina Perri. The song means a lot to him as it was the first dance at his wedding. Peter said: “It was an emotional song and Debbie was sitting in the front row... it was very difficult the last week, very emotional.”
Judge Julian Benson said: “It was lovely to see the softer side of you as a sophisticated gent”.
This Sunday, the contestants will get a new partner as part of ‘Switch Up’ week.
Peter, who is fourth favourite at 7-1 to win with bookies, said: “Switch Up’ week is terrifying and exciting at the same time. Just when you’re used to your partner, she gets snatched away, but it’s a great challenge.”