A TALENTED athlete is making a name for himself as the first wheelchair user in Cork working as a personal trainer.
Alan Dineen from Togher began work at Aclaí gym in the city’s Bishop Street two years ago. In that time he has achieved phenomenal success as a strength and conditioning coach, training both able-bodied people and those with disabilities.
The 26-year-old, who has been representing Ireland in Wheelchair Rugby since 2011, first came to the attention of Ainle Ó Cairealláin of Aclaí Gym, while training members of Rebel Wheelers — an organisation promoting inclusivity for people in sport.
“I’m the first in Cork, maybe the first in Ireland,” Alan said of his career in personal training. While in school Alan — who suffers from brittle bones — said he had always been encouraged to pursue an office job.
“As a kid, other children always found a way of including me in sports. It wasn’t until secondary school that I started feeling excluded. I wasn’t allowed to do PE which was frustrating because I was so sporty.”
In the years that followed Alan’s ambition to secure a job in fitness was all but dashed. “I was constantly told that what I needed was an office job,” Alan said. “For a while, I was second guessing myself thinking ‘maybe they’re right’ and I should go in this direction.” Nonetheless, Alan’s mum, Theresa, did everything in her power to nourish his passion for fitness.
“If I was playing in a match it didn’t matter where in the country it was. Mum would always drive me.”
After finishing school Alan studied web development in CIT. “It was six months of sitting in front of a computer which I found mind-numbing. I did my summer exams but I knew I couldn’t do anymore after that.”
Alan’s mum supported his decision to quit the course and continued encouraged his other pursuits. “I didn’t want to let my disability get the better of me. In the end, I went the path I wanted.”
After much hard graft, Alan managed to secure his current position in Aclaí gym. “I was over the moon to be offered the job. I was studying this at the time but most people would have thought I’d never be able to train able-bodied people. When I told my mum she was delighted. She never doubted me.”
Alan was initially nervous about the transition. “I kept wondering how people were going to buy into what I was doing when I wasn’t able to physically show them myself. I wasn’t as confident at the start. I wouldn’t have called it a struggle, more of a learning curve. Now, I feel like I could throw myself into anything.”
Despite proving himself in endless ways, Alan said his disability still presents challenges in everyday life, one of which is parking.
“When I’ve confronted people for parking in an accessible spot lots of them have used the “I’ll only be two minutes” excuse. Others have ignored me completely and just walked away. When I was younger I just accepted it and told myself that there was nothing I could do. However, over the years I’ve become more resilient and passionate about pushing for disability rights.”
Alan hopes to encourage the kids he trains in Rebel Wheelers to pursue their dreams as well. “One of the boys wants to do sports science and there are a few who have expressed an interest in pursuing sport in the future.”
Ainle Ó Cairealláin, who owns Aclaí Gym praised Alan for his positive contribution to the gym. “Alan is the biggest example you could set for anyone.
“Seeing him doing what he’s doing reminds people that they can achieve the impossible too. Alan is overcoming obstacles and doing things that-in theory-he’s not supposed to be doing.”
Ainle, whose father is a wheelchair user, has always been passionate about inclusion.
“My dad inspires me, but not in a way that’s connected to his wheelchair. Over the years being with him showed me the human side of disability and how it can affect people in everyday life.”
He hopes that Alan’s success will continue to tackle misconceptions around disabilities.