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The Sheehans taking part in Ireland's Fittest Family.
The Sheehans taking part in Ireland's Fittest Family.
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Cork actress: Taking part in Ireland's Fittest Family was "intense madness"

IT WAS a desire to get out of her own comfort zone that led Cork actress Norma Sheahan to agree to take part in Celebrity Ireland’s Fittest Family, but she is also delighted to be helping Cork ARC Cancer Support House.

The chosen charity of the four families taking part each receive €1,000, with €10,000 for the winners.

“My mother had cancer and they really helped her,” Norma told the Evening Echo. “We went with them because it was the charity we could think of where €1,000 would make a difference, it would get lost in the big charities.”

Norma and her family are coached by rugby legend Donncha O’Callaghan on the show, airing on RTÉ on New Year’s Eve. They are taking on 2FM DJ Keith Walsh’s clan, coached by Davy Fitzgerald and singers Seán and Conor Price, coached by Derval O’Rourke. Former Cork star Anna Geary is coaching the final team, Dancing with the Stars judge Brian Redmond and his family. Norma is joined on her team by cousin Leonard O’Sullivan, sister Paula Cogan and niece Sheena Buckley. “My niece is the youngest ever participant, she just turned 14 in time to do it,” Norma said. 

“Turns out she was a great advantage for the team because she is almost six foot, she is very tall and light.

“It was 14 hours of intense madness, doing trials all day long. It was even more intense that what other families do because it was all shoved into one day.”

The result is top secret but Norma admitted it was far tougher than she was expecting. “I thought it would be a lot easier than it was because it looks easy on the TV and I fancy myself as a fit bird!” she said.

“I actually loved that I only had a week’s notice, because I couldn’t do much training. If you had a year’s notice you would want to make an effort. I just ran around the block a few times and did a yoga class. My sister said it was like going to war, you were traumatised physically for a few weeks afterwards but when you recovered you had an amazing sense of achievement. I had a lump out one shin, my legs were more black and blue than white.”

She credited mentor Donncha for keeping them focused and enjoying the day. “He made sure we had the craic, if anyone was stressed he took their mind of it, if anyone fell he got us back up on our feet,” she said.

“He had a little notebook where he drew out maps of the obstacles. I thought ‘this isn’t very professional’! But when you are out there on the course, you’re not going to remember advice you got but you remember that image and where to go and not to go. I did go round to the other coaches and rob some advice from Davy and Anna, just pretending to be their friend!”

Viewers will have to tune in on December 31 to see which family comes out on top.

In the meantime, Norma is currently preparing for a lead role in Martin McDonagh play The Cripple of Inishmaan, running in the Gaiety Theatre from January 25 to March 9. She will also be back on our screens in February as part of the cast of Bridget & Eamon, now in its fourth season.