A YOUNG Cork man says participating in the RTÉ series, Davy’s Toughest Team, has benefited him “100%”.
The four-part observational series sees Wexford GAA manager, Davy Fitzgerald, motivating seven men aged between 18 and 22 with various challenges.
The ultimate aim is to prepare them to reach the base camp of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, but this has to be changed because of the ongoing pandemic.
Sean Downey, aged 21, originally from the Glen, spent eight years in foster care. At the age of ten, he went to a residential centre in Tralee for two years followed by foster care in Midleton for six years.
It was, he says, “a confusing time. I guess I wanted to be back with my family but now that I’m older, I can see that being in foster care was good for me.”
Sean, who now works for the Education and Training Board (ETB), teaching kids computer coding in the Kabin Studio in Knocknaheeny, as well as studying community development at CIT, has come a long way from being “an aggressive child”.
He was diagnosed with ADHD and ADD as well as ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), a childhood disorder characterised by hostility, disobedience and defiant behaviour directed at authority figures.
“I was this ball of energy when I was younger and I had no way of expressing that energy,” says Sean.
“It led to aggression and anger and it was quite stressful for my parents.”
Sean now shares a house with his brother. He says that he doesn’t hold any resentment towards his parents. “Because of the way my life is now, I appreciate a lot more the decision to put me in foster care.”
Davy Fitzgerald, who also plays a tough taskmaster role as a mentor in Ireland’s Fittest Family on RTÉ, has been breaking down the young men on his TV programme, pushing them to both their physical and mental limits, in preparation for their epic mountain challenge.
From the moment they arrive, sparks fly within the group as the lads rub each other up the wrong way. But hopefully the series will show them being brought on a physical and mental journey by Davy.
“There’s quite a lot of fitness in the programme,” says Sean.
“I’m not necessarily the most fit person but it’s not just about fitness. So many of the fitness exercises we did were to build trust and understanding in the group.”
The lads, filmed in remote locations such as the Wicklow hills and the Burren, have been taking on challenges including abseiling and night orienteering.
Will they maintain their motivation when they return to their normal lives?
Sean is certainly determined to keep in good shape for what lies ahead. He admits that kick-starting himself into getting fit was the most difficult part of the TV series.
“I had to get into doing the exercise, I had to have a routine and get my nutrition sorted. While I have work and college, my personal life was a bit of a mess, I didn’t have a schedule. I was skipping meals and having takeaways. But from the TV show, I now have those building blocks in place.”
Outside of the show, Sean has taken on another challenge. Every day at 7.45am, he goes on Instagram to do a work-out.
“I’m doing it to motivate myself and to see the benefits of fitness for my mental health. I’m also trying to get as many young people as I can to get involved.
“I’m so aware that during lockdown, a lot of people’s mental health is suffering. I give people a little challenge that will push them every single day.
“We do six exercises for 30 seconds each, doing three rounds of them. It’s a really basic introduction to exercise. The aim is to keep it simple so that anyone can join in. It can help with mental health too.”
Sean, who has compared his ADHD to “drinking five or six cans of Red Bull” is delighted to report that he is now off his medication for it.
“I was put on it at seven years of age. In the past, I had come off it but I always had to go back on it. But now that I’m off it, I feel like I’m still on it.
“With my routine and schedule, I don’t feel so overwhelmed by all the ideas and thoughts that race through my mind constantly.”
One of the positives of ADHD is, says Sean, the fact that he is never without ideas.
“There’s always something I haven’t done yet. If I’m feeling down, I get up and go for a little walk and try to do something I’ve never done before. “
Sean isn’t afraid to put himself forward. When he was 15, he became interested in “promoting foster care and telling people about it”.
He explains: “I made a video telling people I was in foster care. I put it on YouTube and an article was written about it which was viewed half a million times in 24 hours.”
Sean was delighted to “express my living situation online” and says that he was then invited abroad to speak at conferences about his experience.
He met Gary McCarthy of GMC beats and learned how to rap from him.
“I started with a rap workshop. Finding that creative outlet and the tools I needed has helped me get to where I am today.”
Being in care doesn’t have to define a person, says Sean.
“You don’t have to just be the foster kid.”
Clearly, he has broadened his horizons and says the process of preparing to reach the base camp of Everest was “a thrill”.
However, in the episode of Davy’s Toughest Team last Monday, the participants learned that the pandemic had put paid to that ambitious plan.
When Davy broke the bad news to the lads on the TV show, they were devastated to have their dream dashed.
However, he encouraged them to refocus and set their minds to what they can do — which is a trip to Kerry organised by him, culminating in scaling Ireland’s highest mountain — Carrauntoohil.
In one scene, Davy was seen arguing with Sean as he tried to cajole him along. Another Corkman, Cian O’Mahony is also among the seven young men taking part.
Davy’s Toughest Team continues on RTÉ1 on Monday at 9.35pm