IN Wayne’s world, the most important things in his life are family, his work with young people at CYDS Mallow, playing sport, and spending time with his girlfriend, Jackie.
“Family is really important to me,” says Wayne O’Donnell.
“I am really close to my family. Although my nanny Kathleen spoilt me and I was a chubby child! She gave me my sweet tooth.”
The 29-year-old youth worker from Mallow is one of five leaders chosen to take part in Operation Transformation, which begins on RTÉ1 this day week, January 9.
“I played GAA for both clubs in Mallow,” says Wayne, who is passionate about all sports.
“At the youth centre, the kids from age five to 21 are involved in a range of activities, the homework club, the youth cafe, the music groups. Baking and cooking are some of the life-skills learned there. There is something for everyone.”
Wayne was an all-rounder.
“I loved playing soccer, hurling, and basketball. I really enjoy being involved in coaching teams as well. My girlfriend, Jackie, is a keen basketball player and she plays for Cork.”
Jackie was instrumental in Wayne’s role in the up-coming Operation Transformation programme. The show will follow ‘leaders’ over a number of weeks as they implement a food and fitness plan and face the scales at their weekly weigh-ins.
“When I piled on the weight, Jackie was worried about my health,” says Wayne. “She inspired me to apply for Operation Transformation.”
Was he surprised when show presenter Kathryn Thomas crept up on him when he was putting up Christmas decorations in the Blue Cube in Mallow where he works?
“It was a bit of a shock in the moment,” admits Wayne. “But it’s great.”
Wayne’s world changed drastically when he shattered his elbow, breaking it in 18 places on the field of play, back in April, 2016.
“I had four surgeries on my elbow in 15 months,” he says. “The nerves in my arm were damaged badly. It was a bit frightening and the injury was really sore. After the first surgery, I got a bad infection and I was in hospital for 12 days. The pins and plates had to be taken out and replaced. There seemed to be no end goal and it got me down.”
Wayne’s mobility and his usual upbeat mood were seriously compromised.
“Before, I worked for the IWA in Limerick. I was well used to moving patients hourly. I was fairly fit.”
By December, the injury showed no real signs of healing.
“The elbow was opened up again and I had a bone graft from my hip.”
The surgery was complicated.
“After six or eight weeks there was no improvement”, says Wayne. ”I lost my range of movement and the mobility in my ring and baby fingers.
“In the New Year, I was hopeful the injury would heal after the bone graft. But no. In July this year I went to the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin where the same surgery was repeated. I seemed to be on the road to healing and after numerous CT scans my surgeon said he was happy the way it was going.”
“There’s 16 pins in it,” says Wayne smiling.
During all this, Wayne, who usually weighed around 15 to 16 stone, ballooned to 19 stone while he was laid up.
“I had no work and no sport,” says Wayne. “I was at home, munching away.”
As an adult, he was always around 15 stone. He trained three or four nights a week.
“I worked in a bar part-time too and I didn’t drink. And since I shattered my elbow, I have no interest in it,” says Wayne.
He does like looking good though, and he likes looking sharp in his suits.
“Jackie and I had an amount of weddings last year and have more weddings coming up this year,” says Wayne.
“I‘d like to look well in a suit. Lately, I notice I sweat more when I’m dancing and I need to change my shirt twice or three times during the evening.”
While Jackie and the O’Donnells were keeping Wayne’s spirits up and checking in on him, he was left to his own devices during the week.
“I was thrown down at home,” says Wayne. “I didn’t cook and I relied on takeaways. I couldn’t even pour out cereal from the box. My movement from wrist to shoulder was that restricted.
He had another weakness too.
“Fizzy drinks were my downfall. When I was on shift work with the IWA, I got into the bad habit of sipping fizzy drinks. I’m not that interested in Taytos or chocolate. Quick food, convenience stuff, was what I went for.”
The weekends brought other temptations.
“I ate out a lot with pals and with Jackie,” says Wayne.
“At every opportunity, we would go out to eat. Dante’s Pizza in Mallow is pretty good. I was a regular there.”
As Wayne’s sedentary lifestyle progressed, his weight rocketed.
“I was now 18 stone,” says Wayne.
Did he see it coming?
“I never noticed the weight creep on,” says Wayne. “It was only when I saw a photograph of myself at my cousin’s Debs, I realised just how big I was. Things got worse when I reached a massive 19 stone.”
How did that happen?
“I was feeling down, being at home all day,” says Wayne. “It was bleak. From being active and playing sports, I was a couch potato. I started blogging to distract myself and maybe get motivated to lose some weight. I knew Jackie worried about me.”
There was a more serious reason for Wayne to tackle his weight.
“My dad was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis, a lung disease,” says Wayne. “It is a manageable condition, but there is no cure for it. My dad’s mother also suffered lung problems.”
Did he try ways to lose weight?
“I tried dieting before, off and on” says Wayne. “I didn’t have much success. I had seen Operation Transformation on TV. I was interested in Grace’s journey, a girl from Castletownroche. My grandad Michael was from Castletownroche. He was a role model for me. He was healthy and strong. He didn’t drink or smoke. He got a 30-year award from the Pioneer Association when he was 89.”
Wayne wanted to be a role model too.
“Obviously, being involved with young people at work and coaching under 16s in the football club, I realise obesity is becoming a huge problem,” says Wayne.
“Everyone has great abilities. I want youngsters to say; ‘If Wayne can do it; I can do it too’.”
Jackie knew Wayne could do it.
“She encouraged me to apply to be a leader on Operation Transformation,” he says.
“I knew the advice and making the life changes necessary, both emotionally and physically, would prove invaluable in losing the weight.
“Team effort is fantastic for motivation. I found that out when we all met in Dublin. 19 of us did a 1km run. We took part in the Circle of Truth, which was very emotional. We were told to ‘be yourself’ and to enjoy Christmas. I suppose the hardest part will be the lead up to it,” says Wayne.
Then he got the surprise visit from Kathryn Thomas to confirm he’d secured a place on the TV show.
“I’d love if Operation Transformation started tomorrow,” says Wayne. “The start seems ages away. But then it is good to get some time to adjust and to enjoy the support from the community.”
Wayne is committed. Is he daunted about being on TV?
“No. I want to do it. I’m pretty laidback and I’m confident.”
Wayne’s world is already changing for the better. He’s cooking again.
“Yes, I do cook now, even at work. I get stuck in.”
That’s what leaders do — get stuck in.