Ger Reidy

First Published May 2022

A HELL OF A MAN

Part 1

If you’re a regular reader of this column, then you’ll know that OTRT is a huge fan of RTE’s SPECIAL FORCES – ULTIMATE HELL WEEK show. And we’ve been lucky enough to sit down for a chat with the show’s Chief DS Ray Goggins, as well as two of the stand-out performers on this year’s celebrity version of the show; eventual winner Ryan Andrews of Fair City fame, and world champion dancer Laura Nolan from another of RTE’s most successful creations of recent years, Dancing With The Stars.

Both Ryan and Laura had captivating and enthralling stories to tell from their time on the show earlier this year, made all the more compelling, of course, because we – the viewers, sitting in the comfort of our own homes with a mug of tea in hand – got to ‘share’ that journey with them. Talking to Ray, though, that was a different experience. And why wouldn’t it be. Whereas Ryan and Laura are famous faces to us, and well used to the spotlight, Ray and his colleagues in the Army Ranger Wing have purposely spent their careers staying out of sight, keeping their heads down, and for the most part going unnoticed by the rest of the world. Until, that is, Ultimate Hell Week came along and changed all that. 

This week, we have the pleasure of adding the name of DS GER REIDY to the list of Hell Week stars we’ve had the privilege of sitting down with. And sitting down with someone like Ger isn’t just a chance for a great chat. As with Ray, it’s a chance to learn. 

Now, whether Ger likes the term or not, there’s no doubt that he, along with his fellow DS’s (Ray Goggins, Robert Stafford, and Alan O’ Brien) – are the ‘stars’ of the show. But more than simply being one of the show’s main figures, Ger is one of the core group responsible for the show even existing at all. Before we got on to that, though, I wondered if the show’s success and the way it has really captured the public’s imagination over the last few years had taken him by surprise at all? 

“Yeah, it actually has. Because what we do in the Unit (the Army Ranger Wing), and the Unit’s existence, was kept fairly secret for years. So we were quite surprised when it started to take off, because we didn’t know how people would take it, ya know. But I suppose our main concern at the time was how the guys in the Unit would look at it and look at us, because obviously we tried to give some indication to people of what it’s like to go through selection, and show the public what it’s really like to go through that type of thing. So when it took off, yeah, it really did surprise us. We didn’t think there’d be that many people who’d be into this type of thing.” 

So is it a thing that Ger finds himself being recognised more when he’s out and about now, thanks to his involvement in the show? 

“Ah it is, yeah, and it was very weird there for me – and for the lads – for a long time. I spent twenty-one years in the Unit, and in twenty-one years I never wore my uniform home. No-one ever really knew what I did. Even in the town, and I live in a small town where I was highly involved with playing a high level of soccer, and Gaelic, my main sport was Gaelic football so I played that a lot even when I was in the Unit. When the show kicked off and came out, it was fierce funny because I was getting a lot of different looks from people in the town who never knew what I did. And guys would be sort of half afraid of me to come near me on the pitch [laughs]. So it was kinda weird.” 

When Ger, Ray, Robert, and Alan, were first approached by Motive Television about the idea for Hell Week, it was far from a matter of everyone responding along the lines of, “Yes, brilliant, television, let’s do it!” In fact, it was actually something which all four put considerable thought into, not only as to whether or not such a show should happen, but if it did, what shape it would take…

“Yeah, that was kinda weird as well. I was on tour for a while and I came home and got an email talking about this. That email came through another ex-Unit guy who was approached as well. I thought it was a wind-up. And obviously the four of us are mates, so I sent the email on to them saying, ‘Here, did ye get this?’, cos’ we’re all paranoid, like, ya know [laughs]. And they did. Then we met Jamie [D’Alton] from Motive TV, and again, before we met him we all had a good chat, because again, we’re all paranoid [laughs]. We didn’t know where this was after coming from, or if it was a joke, or someone just pulling something out of their underpants, as we would say [laughs]. We met him, and it was funny, because we met so he could kind of interview us, but it really turned the other way around and we started interviewing him! But eventually he told us how it had went up the chain [of command in the Army] and then back down and it was all ok that way, and we were the guys they wanted to do it. And even at that, when he spoke to us we didn’t say yes straight away, it took us a while. We had a lot of coffees, the four of us together, and had a good talk about it. We kind of knew how the perception would be when it went out, and we told them. And it was hard for them as well, because we told them, look, when ye see us switching into this mode, it’s gonna be really weird to you. Because I was talking to them like I’m talking to you now. But when we switch into a training mode, it’s a different type of environment.”

“And the production crew”, Ger pointed out, “would never have experienced that. We were trying to explain to him that when this goes out on air, people that don’t get it will probably think we’re bullies and that, but people that do get it will understand. And we were trying to explain that what we do is nothing new. This is done in every SF (Special Forces) unit in the world. We didn’t pull this out of our underpants, and neither did they [any other SF unit). Everybody talks to each other because this is such a small community. We see how we all train things and how we bring in guys, and we change things. So the selection course changes quite considerably every year to try and make it better and get more people in. We understood that we’d get that label for a while until people kind of got it and understood. Then, of course, when we got out there and were doing a couple of interviews like this, we were trying to explain that there’s a process to it. Everybody is treated fairly. Everybody is on the same level once they come into the Unit. But our main concern at the time when the four of us spoke about it was actually the guys in the Unit, because we were trying to portray a representation of what everybody goes through in there. We really wanted their OK more than anybody else’s. We didn’t really care about anybody else’s! So once the guys in there were happy that it was a fair representation of what they go through, then we were happy enough. We were gonna get labelled with whatever we got labelled, but we were willing to take that on the chin and put ourselves out there. And that was a big thing. We knew we were gonna be in the limelight, and that was very hard for us. Because as I said, we’ve spent the last twenty-odd years hiding from all that kind of stuff! [Laughs].” 

Before talking more about the show, I wanted to talk a little about Ger himself. Some people might watch him on Hell Week and think, ‘Yeah, he likes to shout, and yeah, he could probably take on five or six lads in one go…but is there anything else to him?’ Well, the answer to that is a simple and definite yes! Try a Master’s Degree – with First Class honours – in Forensic Computing and Cybercrime from UCD. I asked Ger about his decision to go in that particular direction…

“Well I was always into tech, but I kept that to myself. Because the guys in work would be lashing me out of it, ya know, they’d be calling me nerd and everything [laughs]. But when their phone would break, I’d fix it, ya know! So I was always dossing about taking phones apart and taking computers apart and fixing them or trying to put my own little bits of code onto them, that kind of thing. But that was just a hobby. Once the Afghanistan and Iraq war kicked off, things changed in the intelligence end of things. We used to work in the olden days as a triangle. That would be from the top down, with intel coming in, then down to the guys on the ground and they’d go do their thing. Nowadays – it comes from all directions – but a lot of it comes from the ground in, all the way up the triangle, sorted at the top, then it comes back down. And the reason that happens is because of all the technical stuff now. It’s what we call TEO, Technical Exploitation Operations. It’s like a forensic investigation, but it’s done in quick-time. We do the same thing as the police would do if they go into a crime-scene, except they get themselves suited up to take the fingerprints. We do all that, but in quick-time. We have five-minute, ten-minute, and fifteen minutes windows because obviously there’s bullets flying our way and that. So we come in, lift fingerprints, look for the stuff that you can use to actually make bombs, all that kind of thing. Then with the phones, we have machines to take all the information off them, and laptops, all of that. I did a lot of courses in that kinda stuff in SF schools around the world, because we’d all get taught the same thing. So I could go into any other team, or the guys could go into any other team around the world, and do the same drill because it’s the same thing that’s taught to everybody.” 

Ger continued, “That’s where I got into it. I just decided then that we might be able to put this to good use within the unit and get a technical side of things set up. So I found that course in UCD and I could do the restricted one because I was in the military. That has an extra couple of courses on it that the civilian one doesn’t. I went hell-for-leather at that. And it was hard-going for the two years. Well, it was about two-and-a-half for me when I put my head to it. I think you needed ninety credits or something to pass, that would equate to nine courses, and you could break that down over the two years. But of course I wanted to do everything, so I think I did about twelve courses, and then a dissertation as well which was another thirty credits. I didn’t need to do a dissertation, but I wanted to because I was interested in things and how it all could benefit the Defence Forces, and relate it to the Defence Forces. So that’s why I decided to do that.” 

I think it’s fair to say that everybody in the Army Ranger Wing needs to be a leader. And Ger’s career has examples of leadership that few people could match. Just some examples include being a Team Leader, a Team 2i/c (2nd-in-command), Platoon Sergeant, an NCO in Lebanon, Close Protection Team 2i/c for a trip to Beirut by the President, being Close Protection Team Leader for a visit to Ireland by the US Army’s Joint Chief-of-Staff, and countless more that the general public will probably never know anything about. But in leaders who Ger has looked up to, what have been two or three of their main attributes that he’s admired? 

“I suppose one of the big things – that I find anyway in leadership – is the integrity of a leader. Integrity in a nutshell is you own up to your own faults. Accept the mistakes you make. I’ve been under some guys in those positions and they’d never accept their own mistakes. But we’re only human, everybody learns from their mistakes. And especially in the SF community, that’s how we get good at what we do. And that’s why guys are so good at what they do, they always learn from their mistakes. They have an ability to really critique each other a lot, accept those mistakes, and move on from them then, and do things better the next time that situation comes around. Some leaders are just naturally born [that way], but some have to work really hard at it. But there can be small traits there that enable them to bring out the leadership qualities in a person. And you have to be a good follower as well. That’s what makes good leaders as well, being a natural follower is part of the process. Another big thing is actually listening to people. I’ve often seen it, even in the corporate world, where a young guy or girl comes in and they want to talk to the CEO or whoever it is of the company. He might walk by and ask the question, ‘How’s your day?’, but without really listening, do you know what I mean? But I’ve seen others who are very good working in that environment, where they’ve actually asked their peers, or their peers have asked them, ya know, ‘How’s your day?’, and they’ve stood there and listened to them. Because of that, they get the responses they want to hear, like ‘I love working there.’ Why do you love working there? ‘Because people listen, people care, they look after you.’ All that kind of thing.” 

And Ger’s own strongest quality as a leader? 

“Well I like to think that it’s there or thereabouts [the quality of leadership], because I’ve been involved in a lot, even in the civilian end of things, not just with the military, where people end up looking up to you. And you don’t really realise it. I never really realise it when I move from the military [environment] because it’s such a natural thing, especially in the Unit. The majority of the lads at any stage can step up into that role. They’re sort of finely-tuned when they come in. And even if you’re not a leader [by nature], just by being around the senior guys all the time it’s sort of brought out in you more and more. I remember when I went in as a young guy, it took a while for that to come out in me as well. But when senior guys are over you and they’re mentoring you, you see your mistakes and you learn from them. And even some of the younger guys are very good as well and some of the other [older] guys will learn from them.” 

I’m also a big fan of the Channel 4 show SAS: Who Dares Wins, but one difference I’ve noticed between the DS’s on that show and Hell Week is that Ger and his colleagues stay ‘in-character’, as it were, right up until the moment someone hands over their armband, at which point their humanity instantly returns. On SAS: Who Dares Wins, however, the DS can often have little moments where they actively reassure or encourage someone. So I asked Ger to tell me why his team believes it’s so important to keep that barrier between DS’s and recruits…

“If you break that barrier then sometimes it can give a false sense of security to the recruit or the candidate. And sometimes that can end up breaking the mold that we’re trying to get them into. We have to get them into that mindset [that we want them in] fairly quickly, because it’s only a short period that they’re there for. We have to get them into that quickly, and then keep them in it. For them, it’s really a battle between their own heads if they want to succeed or not. The battles go on in their head, ya know. We’re there to keep them in that environment as much as we possibly can. They have to understand that although it’s a show, we’re not gonna take any sh*t. If it goes wrong, or it’s not going how we want it to go, then in a heartbeat we’ll just switch it and pull them out. But at the same time, once they hand over the armband and once they go, then we obviously do show that [more human] side, because they’ve come down and put that effort in.”

“They’ve put their life on hold”, acknowledges Ger. “And some of them have good jobs, some have businesses, and they’ve put all that on hold and put the sacrifice in for the couple of months or weeks prior to the show to try and prep themselves for it. And they’re not getting anything from it. They volunteered. They’re not gonna win anything. Some might have put in all this preparation, and within an hour they’re gone. Or even stepping off the bus they’re gone because they just have four hairy guys coming at them! [Laughs]. So we understand the process of what they’re going through, or what they’re going to go through, the sacrifice that they’ve made. But this is not a career choice [for them]. For us, this is a career choice. When I make a sacrifice, that’s when I’m going to work at it. They’re not gonna work at this. They’re gonna go back to their jobs. And not only that, they’re after being on television. They didn’t do what they thought they were gonna do, maybe. They have to face all that when they go back to their normal lives. But we’re not gonna be assholes – as some people call us [laughs] – for the whole lot of it. We are human! You let them know that they’ve put in a fierce effort, and you congratulate them.” 

SPECIAL FORCES – ULTIMATE HELL WEEK, airs again TOMORROW night (Thursday, May 19th) at 9.30pm on RTE 2. 

ENDS

Keith Barry

First Published May 2022

“I LIVE A LIFE OF POSITIVITY”

Part 2

A few weeks back we had the pleasure of spending some time in the company of the world famous TV hypnotist, mentalist, and brain hacker KEITH BARRY to chat about his book, BRAIN HACKS, and his RECONNECTED Tour which comes to Tullamore on June 3rd. With that date in the Tullamore Court Hotel now only a few weeks away, it’s time to bring you Part 2 of our chat with Keith. 

I feel like it’s also worth reminding you that during our chat – which was via Zoom, by the way – Keith read my mind, not once…but TWICE. Believe you me, I’ve thought about it long and hard ever since, and I still have no idea how he did it. It still feels like it should have been impossible…and yet…he did it. It happened. Even if I can’t explain it. If you missed Part 1 of this chat where I went into detail on exactly what happened, you can check it out on the official OTRT website. 

But my point is, if he can do THAT via Zoom, I can’t wait to see what he can do to, or with, a venue full of people in the Tullamore Court Hotel on June 3rd. 

In advance of our interview, I was listening to a podcast on which Keith had recently been a guest. On that podcast, he spoke about his ‘chaos-box’, an idea I love. Essentially, it’s where Keith stores ideas for inspiration. I asked him if he’d share a little about the whole concept of the box and how it came to be…

And, sure enough, with that request Keith disappears off-screen, informing me as he goes that, “Hold on, I’m going over to get my chaos-box!” 

“I’ll put it this way”, he says, upon his return into view on my screen, “this is my current chaos-box. I don’t know if I can lift it up [it is, in fairness, quite a big and full box], look, there it is there. So that’s my chaos-box. Let’s see what we have goin’ on in here. I’ve got all kinds of mad s**t in here! I’ve got Pringles. I’ve got this…I don’t even know what this is [he lifts up something that I can’t identify either]. I literally don’t know what this is, but I know it will give me inspiration. I have an everyday magic-kit. I’ve got some really old coins. I collect coins as well, so I’ve got all these really old ones. So let’s just take a coin, for example. Today, I might go, ‘I can’t make a decision about something’, so I’ll take a coin, flip it, and go heads or tails. Heads. Done. That’s the decision made. Whatever that comes up with, I’ll do that. The concept of the chaos-box just came to me randomly one time when I was stuck – just completely stuck – in a creative rut. I’d read years ago about people making a mood-board, right, where you take clippings out of magazines. That’s what I’d read. But for me, I’d tried that years and years ago, taking clippings out of magazines, but it never really resonated with me, that one thing. I could never really make it work for me. Different folks, different strokes.”

“But then”, he continued, “I realised objects are really important to me. So what I do is, I literally take – as you can see – a whole bunch of different things, and I chuck it into a box. There’s tons and tons of different things in there. And as I look at that chaos-box, there’s probably a hundred different things in there. When I get stuck in a creative rut, I stop, and I just play. I don’t even think about whatever it was I’d been thinking about, I just play with the objects in the chaos-box. So what this does is it opens up your creativity, gives your mind a break from whatever it is that you’re working on at that moment in time. But more importantly, again, in the background while you’re doing this, your subconscious mind is working in overdrive to solve the problem that you have to hand. So, anytime I get stuck, I just take that and I dump it out on the floor – cos’ I have loads of space here – and I literally just sit there and I play with all that kind of stuff. Then I’ll go back to the problem at hand, and nine times out of ten, my creativity will have been inspired by the chaos-box.”

The most important thing about the chaos-box, according to Keith, is that “you kind of rework it once a month.”

“I’ll actually take all those items [currently in the box] and I’ll either dump them or I’ll put them somewhere else, and put new objects in there so it’s not that you have the same things there the whole time. And, of course, it also keeps your office really tidy! [Laughs]. That’s what’s great about it, right? [Laughs]. I don’t have any of this stuff lying everywhere, my office is lovely and neat and tidy. I can’t turn my camera around now because my technician is not here. When we do gigs, if I touch any of this equipment, he kills me [laughs]. But if I did, you’d see a really tidy office. So if you’ve got a chaos-box going on, it just helps a lot, it helps with organisation, with structure, and then with creativity.” 

What, I asked Keith, is it about people – some people – that stops them from creating a better life for themselves when the methods to do so are there, and are being shared by people like him in easy to access ways, ways that are just waiting to be used? 

“Dare I say it – this will be unpopular, but I have to say it – it’s laziness! People are lazy. We’ve become so comfy in our comfy houses. I’m in a heated cabin now, and I’ve got a heated house, and I’ve got a heated steering-wheel, and heated seat in my car. I’m really comfy with all that. And then people are always looking for an easy solution. And this is an issue. I talked to somebody recently about this, on a project I was working on. But we were talking to a lot of different people, literally hundreds of people. And it turned out that over 50% of those people were medicated for either anxiety or depression. These are just normal, everyday people, right. But I asked them all – and this is the interesting thing – I asked them all, each one of them individually, when did they have the EKG machine hooked up? When did you have your brain scanned? And they were like, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘Well, the only way that you should be on that medication is if they scanned your brain and determined that the neurology of your brain is out of kilter, and you have a chemical imbalance in the brain. Because that’s what chemicals are designed to do, they’re designed to help the chemical balance. So where did you have your brain-scan, or where did you have your blood tests to prove that you have a chemical imbalance?’ And not one of them had been scanned. Not one of them had a blood test. In other words, it was just a doctor going, ‘Oh, you appear to have signs of anxiety, the signs of depression, here’s your medication.’ So the issue is, people are looking for a quick-fix.”

“The information is all there [to change your life]”, asserts Keith. “It’s like the gym. I’m currently about six kilos overweight, and I don’t look it, but I am. So I’m currently intermittent-fasting, which is not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. Like life isn’t easy, right? I’m currently intermittent-fasting, sixteen hours a day, no food. And then an eight-hour window in which I can eat. And in that window, it’s just black coffee with no milk because I don’t want to spike my glucose levels. And scrambled eggs. Now, I’m not saying that everybody should do that. But I know I’m going to lose the weight by doing that, and if I go to the gym. But the easier thing would be to go, ‘Oh that’s too hard’, and just not bother. It’s easier to have a glass of wine on a Wednesday night. It’s easier to sit in on a Friday night. It’s easier not to go for a walk when it’s raining. But I think right now, we’re unfortunately in a world where people are looking for the easy fix. A lot of it is down to digitisation of the world. Everything has become so instant at our fingertips. We want the instant solutions to our bodies. We want the instant solutions to our minds. And that’s how people end up struggling. And people say they struggle, and they do struggle, and they recognise that so I’m not belittling that. That’s important for me to get across. I have empathy for people.”

“But…! People need to start taking some responsibility for their own self-discipline. Like, literally, get a journal and write down the sh*t that you want to do in life. And then get up and get on it. You’ve got to maintain that discipline. Before I did anything this morning, I did four rounds of Wim Hoff breathing, I did twenty-two press-ups, exactly twenty-two press-ups for a reason. Then I got into a freezing cold shower, I’m talking about a brain-crushingly cold shower, for five minutes. Then I came out and I did twenty-five press-ups because currently I’m doing a press-up challenge with my friends – there’s four of us – we’re adding on two press-ups a day, so I think one-hundred-and-twenty-two press-ups is what I’ve got to get in today. That’s why I did twenty-two, twenty-five, I’ll do another twenty-five, and then I’ll have fifty left to do. It’s easier not to do that! But, life will give you what you put into it. You’re right, the information is all there, and it’s mostly free. If not, it’s in a book like my book. I’m not saying this in any way to be egotistical, but everything that you need to fix your mind is in my book. But whether you want to use that or not, and apply that or not, is down to the reader. I’ve got some amazing stories of people who have said that the book has actually changed their lives, which is fantastic to hear.”

However, what Keith thinks people really need to understand is that they can fix themselves… 

“I think they need to understand that the solution is within themselves. I think they need to stop being lazy. I think they need to activate themselves every day and stop playing the blame-game as well. Like, it’s easy for us to go, ‘Oh, the oil prices are going up because of the Russians’, or ‘Oh the banks have screwed me!’, or ‘I wish this year was better.’ Don’t wish anything was better. Wish YOU were better. Isn’t that an interesting concept? Don’t wish that the pandemic didn’t happen. Wish that YOU were better during the pandemic, ya know. I have that mindset. We all have to deal with illness. We all have to deal with bad times. We all have to deal with good times. What are we in now? We’re in spring now, summer is coming. Then after the summer, autumn is coming. Then after the autumn, winter is coming. Are we going to get another strain of this sh*t? Probably. Are we all going to get downbeat and downtrodden? Maybe a lot of people will. I won’t. Because I’m already preempting it. That’s a big thing that I do, I preempt obstacles. Start to take a step back and go, ‘Actually…I can control what’s inside my brain.’ You can’t control the world. I can’t control Putin. I can’t control [what’s happening in ] Ukraine. I can’t control Joe Biden. But I can control my responses. My response is to limit the absorption of that information. And to show my support lovingly to Ukraine, which I think we should all be doing. And then, after that, there’s not very much I can do.”

For Keith, it’s about putting habits in place every single day to ensure that he lives a life of positivity. 

“I live a life of positivity. That’s what I do. If you look at my Instagram, I was on Ventry pier the last three days, jumping into the sea, going for a freezing cold swim. There wasn’t a soul in sight, there weren’t even people walking on Ventry beach when I was down there. So, am I right? I don’t know! But all I can tell you is that’s what works for me. But I don’t just do ONE thing that works for me, I do LOADS of things. I do sea-swimming. I do my breathing. I do my own meditation. I do my own visualisation. And it takes time. It takes self-discipline. And, I fall off the wagon. I’m not perfect. I fu*k up like everybody else. But when I fu*k up, I recognise it, and then I take control of it. So right now, my fu*k-up, if you like, is that I’m 89 kilos and I’m starting to film in two and a half weeks for RTE. I should be 85 kilos at least, if not 83, so I’ve got to get that weight off quick! Which I will do. But, it’s not easy! So yeah, I think people need to start to take that responsibility again.” 

~ KEITH BARRY’s RECONNECTED Tour comes to the TULLAMORE COURT HOTEL on JUNE 3rd. For ticket information, check out www.ticketmaster.ie. Keith’s new book, BRAIN HACKS, is also OUT NOW, available in all good bookshops nationwide. Parts 1 and 2 of this interview with Keith are available to enjoy in full at the official OTRT website, www.ontherighttrax.com 

ENDS

Keith Barry

First Published March 2022

PREPARE TO BE AMAZED

Part 1

When the opportunity came up to interview the world famous TV hypnotist, mentalist, and brain hacker, KEITH BARRY, I couldn’t say no. Especially as Keith‘s new book, BRAIN HACKS, ranks high on my list of must-reads from 2021. The chance to have Keith actually ‘read’ my mind during our chat, however, well, that was completely unexpected. But it happened. Oh man, did it happen. And what’s more… he did it…TWICE! How he did it, I still have no idea. And I mean literally… no idea. 

When I tell people about it, the response is often the same: “Well, you MUST have said something that he picked up on.” But trust me, that wasn’t the case. And, even in the highly unlikely event that Keith found himself with some time on his hands before we spoke and decided to do a little bit of research on me, there’s just no way he could have come up with this info. The only place he could have found it is where he actually found it in that moment…in my brain. Which he hacked! And yes, as well as being amazing, that is also a little bit scary in some ways! 

But I’ll tell you what, after seeing him do that to me – someone he had never met before, and doing it over Zoom – there’s NO WAY I’m missing Keith’s show in the Tullamore Court Hotel when he brings his RECONNECTED Tour to town on June 3rd. More on that show, and how Keith read my mind, very soon. But first…

Back when we were first scheduled to chat, and I had been working on what I wanted to ask Keith about, the world was emerging from a very strange place. Covid had been the dominant factor in everything that did or did not happen for the preceding two years. Many of us probably thought, and with good reason, that this – given its scale – would be the once-in-a-lifetime event of our lifetime. The last few weeks, however, with Putin’s Russian Army being sent into Ukraine on what is firstly an unjustifiable war, and secondly, an unwinnable one, have proved us wrong. 

In terms of once-in-a-lifetime scale events, sadly, we’re already seeing scenes in Europe that we thought we’d never see again. And even worse is the fact that we might not have seen anything yet. 

Because of what Keith does, and how his shows and his skills have so much to do with how people think, and how they can be made to think, I was intrigued to hear his read on some of the main players involved in the current situation, from the incredible and inspirational President Zelensky, the made-for-this-moment President Biden, the strong and steady Ursula Von Der Lyen, and of course, the reprehensible Russian dictator himself, Putin. It was a tough question to start our conversation with, but in fairness to Keith, it wasn’t one he shied away from in any way. 

So, when he looks at what’s happening right now, what does he make of it all? 

“That’s kind of a loaded question really, isn’t it. I mean, for me, I just have an opinion. So, it’s two different things, right. So first of all, when I look at politicians – and more home-grown politicians than anything else – when I’m watching Primetime or watching The Tonight Show or any of those, I’m actually just looking for ‘tells’ that will tell me whether someone is lying or not. And the second a politician opens their mouth, pretty much they’re lying! What I’m looking for are asymmetrical shoulder-shrugs, asymmetrical lip movements, the carotid artery in the neck moving, eye direction. I’m looking for pacifying gestures, filler-words. All of these things combined are known as ‘clusters’, and they can tell me if somebody is lying or not. And I find it fascinating that when I do look – and more home-grown than abroad, as I said – at Primetime and these shows, they’re actually not very good at hiding their tells…at all! There’s a reason for that, and it’s predominantly because most of our tells are subconscious. For example, even though I’m aware of them, I can’t stop myself doing a one-sided shoulder-shrug, or asymmetrical lip-movement when I might perhaps be deceiving somebody. So going back to your question about the political stuff. There’s so much going on right now, and there’s so much misinformation going on, I’ll be honest…I tend to shield myself from a lot of it. So I need to know what I need to know. And we all need to know what’s going on in the world. There’s a real war. There’s a real dictator. There’s some terrible, terrible things happening, obviously, to the Ukrainian people. We’ve all got to have empathy. We’ve all got to try and understand it as best we can. But I think there is no real understanding of a dictator like that [Putin]. There is no real understanding of what his real motive is. Because he knew the sanctions were gonna come. He knew the Ukrainians were going to put up a fight. So therefore, what’s the end agenda? And I don’t think anybody really knows just yet what that end agenda is. And I think that’s a problem.”

“I’ll be straight with ya”, states Keith, “I haven’t looked too much at what Biden’s been saying, not for any other reason other than I shield myself from a lot of this press because it digs deep into your subconscious mind. For example, I accidently saw the tank the other day that ran over the car. And you can’t unsee those moments in your mind. That’s what people need to understand. For anybody who saw it, that’s ingrained in your subconscious mind. From that news that I saw, apparently the person survived that tank going over them. But then, you have people immediately going on the attack saying that it was a Russian tank that purposely and maliciously ran over a civilian. But then you have other people who say well it’s clearly a Ukrainian tank that just went out of control because it hit ice, ya know. The truth remains to be seen. I don’t know the answer to that. But what I do know is that by accidentally seeing that, I can’t unsee it. So my imagination plays tricks on me thinking that perhaps somebody did die in it. Or maybe they didn’t die. I think we need to be very careful. More importantly, from where I come from, which is the standpoint of positivity, creativity, and really looking after your subconscious brain. Because most people out there, most people reading this won’t understand their subconscious brain at all. And when you see horrific things, it deeply ingrains itself into the neurology of your brain and can have a very detrimental effect on you down the line. And you won’t even know why, down the line, you have certain problems. It’s because of the information that you’re feeding into your brain. So I’m very careful of what information I’m absorbing right now. To go back to your question, I don’t really have a very strong opinion. Except my heart is absolutely with the Ukrainians, because we know that what’s going on is just inhuman. All I can do is wish them the very best. I mean, what else can we do? We can donate money, and we can do the things the governments are doing. But look, all governments have their own agendas. Biden’s got his own agenda as much as any other politician. We have to just see where it all rolls out to. But for me, it’s more to do with guarding your mind wisely at all times, and trying to absorb the information that’s necessary, that we all need to know. Because we all need to know what’s going on in the world. But then after that, I really, really try to reduce down my absorption of that kind of news, ya know.” 

I thanked Keith for such a comprehensive answer to a quite difficult question right at the top of our chat, and we moved on to his new book, Brain Hacks, which is out now. Divided into nine sections, Keith states in the introduction that while people can dip in and out of it, he feels that it’s probably best read from start to finish. Now, in the same way that I’m always interested to know why a musical artist might go for a particular track-listing on their album, I was also curious as to why Keith had gone for the sequence he had too, beginning with Confidence, moving on to Risk, then Creativity, and so on. Some of it is no doubt self-explanatory in that one helps the other, but I also had a feeling that it went deeper than just that too. So I asked Keith if he’d share a little bit about the importance of the order for him when he was putting the book together.

“Well I think for me, the number one thing I’ve identified right now is that people suffer a huge amount with their confidence. I work a lot with business people as a mind-coach, and behind the scenes – nearly everybody, even these high-end business people – they suffer with lack of confidence. So I thought that was the right one to tackle right off the bat, how to instill confidence in people. They need to understand that everybody suffers from that imposter syndrome. And more importantly, even people in high positions, even athletes, they suffer with their confidence issues. And it’s ok to recognise that. But then, more importantly, it’s ok to understand that you can actually genuinely help yourself with your confidence. And confidence is something that can be gained over time. You’re not just born with confidence. You are to a certain extent, but it gets knocked over time, chipped away at. Like I explain in the book, it’s bricks and mortar, people are just constantly trying to knock that down. So what I’ve got to do is reinforce the bricks, reinforce the mortar in order to stop people chipping away consistently at your confidence. And then understand that there’s certain rules and techniques that you can use on a daily basis in order to promote your confidence. I put a section in there called, ‘Curl Your Toes To Confidence’, which I use to this very day! When I go back on stage, starting April 29th, when I walk on stage in Galway, I will have my toes curled in my shoes as I walk on the stage. These are things that I use myself every single day.”

Keith went on, “Even if you look at my Facebook page when I ask people what’s an issue that you’re dealing with right now, confidence comes up time and time again. And then also risk. I think a lot of people have become risk-averse these days. We’re so petrified of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, I don’t think people are taking enough risks anymore. So for me it’s about calculating risks. So how are you going to calculate a risk? Well you’ve got to measure a risk, you’ve got to gain all the information. Mine for the information is the way I put it in the book. You’ve got to mine like crazy to get as much information as possible. And [do that] before you make the decision. But don’t just go on a whim, or not go on a whim. Get all the information, investigate the information, and then, I say that once a risk is not detrimental to your health or detrimental to your mental health, always take the risk. That’s what I say. For me, once I have the correct information to hand, and once I realise that if I lose then it’s gotta be worth losing, right? So in other words, that risk element, you’ve got to understand that it’s called a risk for a reason. If you lose, you’ve got to be willing to lose. But for me, I always take calculated risks, day- in and day-out. That’s why, as I stand here before you, I’ve got a book written. That’s why I’m in pre-production of season-two of The Keith Barry Experience. That’s why I’m going on tour. It’s because I take these calculated risks. But it’s not about me. It’s about people understanding that with great risks comes great rewards. I think people need to stop being so frightened, cos’ everybody’s petrified right now. There’s a lot of scared people out there. Again, if you look at my Facebook page, it comes up a lot. It’s about just settling down the autonomic nervous system, dumping dopamine and serotonin into the system to counteract our cortisol levels. A healthy level of cortisol is actually a good thing for us, but we’ve got to understand that if we’re overwhelmed by cortisol we won’t take those risks. So we’ve got to learn to control that. That’s sort of the idea behind the structure of the book.” 

Keith mentioned going back on tour at the end of April, and he brings that RECONNECTED Tour to Tullamore on June 3rd. He’s said that part of what he wants to do with this show is prove to people that when psychics say they can actually contact the dead, they cannot. What that made me wonder, though, is if Keith believes self-described psychics just can’t do that, ior s it something that can’t be done at all. Or perhaps, is it just something that’s beyond our capabilities as human beings right now? 

“Well, I’m an open-minded sceptic, is the way I would put it, right. I’m always investigating psychics. But I’m also investigating crypto-zoology. I’ve got a lot of interests, so I look into a lot of different things. The issue I have is I’ve never seen a psychic, on tv or off tv – and I’ve personally gone to thousands of psychics around the world investigating them – I’ve never come across one that even comes remotely to what I would consider ‘the real thing.’ So I’m open-minded about it. But I know that there’s a huge amount of charlatans out there. This is the issue. And unless you’re well-versed and educated in the ways of the psychic, in other words; cold-reading, hot-reading, stop-reading, rainbow-reading, all of these different techniques combined can make it look as if somebody’s psychic.” 

And right here is where things took a really interesting – and unexpected turn…

“For example, and I wasn’t even going to do this, but look. I’ve got a chalk-board here (*Keith takes it from off-screen and holds it up to the camera so that I can see it), and this is what a psychic would do, they’d use chalk and a chalk-board and they’d ask you perhaps to…think of somebody from your past. Ok, let’s do this. So Anthony, think of somebody from your past, that you haven’t thought about in years. So imagine for a second that you’re… in school. Imagine you’re in school, and in your mind – close your eyes for a second – and in your mind, I want you to just look around the classroom and see all the different pupils in the classroom. And look up at the teacher as well. And I want you to imagine that the teacher has a piece of chalk, and imagine that they’re writing the name of one of your classmates on the board. Just the first-name, of course. Imagine that they’re writing the first-name of one of your classmates that you haven’t thought about in years.” 

So picture the scene here, folks…all of a sudden, I find myself sitting in front of the legendary Keith Barry over Zoom, and he’s trying to read my mind. And in my mind, as we’re doing this, and as I’m taking myself back to my school-days and thinking of a particular name, there’s a part of me that’s convinced that there’s just no way he can do this. I mean, how could he, right? How could he possibly figure out the name of someone I’m thinking of from about thirty years in my past? And, on the other hand, there’s another part of me that really wants this to work! Because that’s just amazing if it does. And I won’t need to understand it to be amazed by it, and to appreciate it. But either way, I can’t influence the outcome, because all I can do is what Keith asked me to do…think of a name of someone from my school-days who I wouldn’t have thought about in years…

“When you’ve got that done, open your eyes.” 

I opened my eyes to see Keith looking right at me. 

Ok, good. So I’m going to write something down here (*I can see and hear him writing on the chalk-board). Be honest: Is there any way I could know the name of this person?” 

No, I replied, absolutely not. I was convinced it was simply impossible, and wondering what the hell would I do when the name on the chalk-board wasn’t the one I’d been thinking of! 

“There’s no way I could know, right?”, Keith asks again, and again, I confirm that there isn’t. Because there wasn’t. There just wasn’t…

“That’s why I’d written down the word ‘No’, ” laughed Keithturning the chalk-board around to show me what he’s written, and adding, “See, that would have been good if I’d written down the name of the person!”

But I’ll tell ya what, here’s what I’ll do”, began Keith again, “I’ll actually focus now. So I want you to focus on the name of the person. Focus on the name of the person, and in your mind, just…

Keith then repeats the alphabet backwards at such speed that I wasn’t even sure of the sequence at the time, and even listening back to it to transcribe this, I had to listen four or five times to be sure. And to be honest…I’m still not sure! But I THINK that’s what he did…

“Ok, I’m gonna write down a name now (again, I can see and hear him writing on the chalk-board)…ok, I think that may be it. For the first time, name out loud, what is the name – the first name – of the person you thought of?” 

I answered Lynn, adding that I couldn’t be certain if she used to spell it with one n or two. 

“Ok, that’s so interesting that you went Lynn, because that’s exactly what I wrote down two second ago, Lynn. And that’s two n’s, not one!” 

Keith had just turned around the chalk-board to reveal the name Lynn written on it…and the best response I could manage in my very confused state was just, “Wow! That’s good!” But for the record, THIS was more than good. Way more than good! This was the kind of moment that leaves you doubting everything you know. And yet…being thrilled by it at the same time! 

Listening back to our chat, I realise now that I almost shouted the next bit at Keith in my excitement! 

“I had somebody else in mind first, and I changed as well, so I REALLY have no idea how you did that! I really have no idea!” 

I had actually thought of someone else first, but then I remembered that I had posted something about this particular person on my socials…maybe two years ago? And for some stupid reason, I actually thought to myself for a moment, “No, better not think of her, just in case Keith saw that post!! 

AS IF Keith has ever been scrolling around my Instagram! Anyway, if I thought I could out-think the brain-hacker himself, I was badly mistaken. And even more so than I thought, as I was about to find out…

“That’s why I was confused”, remarks Keith. “Look, if I wipe off Lynn right…just give me a moment (*I can see and hear Keith cleaning off the board)…I’ll wipe off Lynn. Ok, go for the name that you went with the first time, look at me… The name that you went with the first time, was that a man or a boy?” 

I replied that it wasn’t, and Keith remarked that was interesting because he had thought it was a boy, and then said…

“Ok, I’m going to go with this then (*I can see and hear him writing another name on the chalkboard…)..., ok, I’ll get rid of the chalk. Ok, who was the first person that you thought of?” 

I answered that the first name I thought of was a girl called Sharon. 

“Sharon”, repeats Keith, “and it’s interesting that you went with two girls, because there were boys in the class as well, obviously, right?” 

I confirmed with a simple, “Yeah”, that this had been the case. 

“Sharon was the first name that I was going with as well”, revealed Keith, turning the chalk-board around to show that very name looking right back at me! “But then I went with Lynn first.” 

I was literally stuck for words at this point, and listening back to it, all I did was laugh and say wow again. But in fairness to me, I did manage to hold myself together enough to thank Keith for taking the time to give me that experience. 

“But if you think about this for a moment, though, right”, he continued, “if I wanted to pretend that I was psychic, and if I wanted to go deeper into that, I could absolutely do that. But I choose not to do that. Now obviously I don’t mind doing that on a call like this, but in the show, I do reconnect people with the other side, with the dark side. But I say at the outset, ‘This is an illusion, I’m doing this to show you how psychics do what they do.’ It’s almost like a public service announcement, think of it like that. But I’m doing it because people are really interested in this kind of stuff. I’m not doing it to dupe them into thinking that I’m actually in contact with the other side. I’m doing it for entertainment purposes. And I say to people, only get involved if you’re comfortable with doing this. Then they understand the process. Very often people will say I thought he was saying psychics aren’t real? Yeah, I’m still saying they’re not real, I’m just going to do this anyway and then we’ll explore that whole area. That’s what the ‘Reconnected’ show is about. It’s about reconnecting people intellectually, emotionally, physically, spiritually.” 

“At the start of the ‘Reconnected’ show”, declares Keith, “I’m going to get half of the audience to hack into the other half of the audience’s brains. One half of the audience is actually going to be able to hack into the other half of the audience’s brains. I’m going to teach them how to do that. I’ve never done that before. That’s because I want that reconnection right at the start of the show, where the whole audience is just going to lose their mind. Everyone’s going to be freaking out. Even the people who are doing the brain-hacking, they’re going to freak out that they’re going to be successful at the brain-hacking. So it’s going to be this weird moment! And then at the end of the show, it’s the most emotional ending to a show that I’ve ever designed. Even the hardcore sceptics, they’re going to be balling crying in the audience. But, the reason they’re going to be balling crying is the feel-good factor will be so overwhelming. It won’t be like they’re crying for any other reason except it’s going to be an amazing moment of their lives. Even the sceptics! I’m really excited to get back on the road now, ya know.”

It was only as I was transcribing this that something pretty remarkable came back to me. When Keith asked if I had been thinking of a boy’s name first, I said no. BUT, that may not be 100% true, because the Sharon in question is the cousin of one of my best friends, a dude called Leroy! And we were all in the same year together! So Leroy was part of the thought process involved in me thinking of Sharon’s name in the very first instance! Amazing!

~ KEITH BARRY brings his RECONNECTED tour to the TULLAMORE COURT HOTEL on JUNE 3rd. Tickets are NOW ON-SALE from www.ticketmaster.ie 

ENDS

Tara Mooney

First Published January 2022

THE POWER OF THE POSITIVE

Part 2

Back at the beginning of November we featured Part 1 of our chat with as inspirational a woman as you’re ever likely to cross paths with, the force of nature that is TARA MOONEY

Not only is the Edenderry native a fitness instructor, personal trainer, one of RINKA Ireland’s leading lights, and – in what spare time she might have left – a model and brand ambassador (FitPink Fitness and Complex Wear) she’s also making a name for herself on the Irish and international powerlifting scene. In fact, since we first spoke to Tara a few weeks back, it’s been revealed that she placed Top Twenty in the ABS Series of competitions for 2021…across no less than NINE countries. 

It’s a list of reasons exactly like that, and the fact that Tara seems to be fuelled by positivity as much as by a healthy and carefully designed and prepared diet, that make her such an impressive and inspirational figure. This, let us not forget, is a lady who thought nothing of the fact that she had recovered from a broken back to eventually begin her career in the fitness industry, a fact that only came to light as an aside at the very end of our chat! This is also the lady who travelled to Berlin to take on one of Germany’s biggest fitness stars and social media influencers after only a few weeks of proper preparation…and came within a few reps of coming home victorious. That battle has been viewed almost 1.5 MILLION times on YouTube.

As magnificent as all of that is – and it is – the most admirable trait in Tara’s make-up is undoubtedly her positivity. It’s just impossible to sit and chat with her without laughter permeating the conversation, and feeling your energy levels rise simply by being in her presence. Not just the mark of a good fitness instructor or personal trainer, if you ask me, but the mark of a good soul as well. Tara is the kind of person you’d go into battle with. And definitely not someone you’d want to go into battle against! 

To begin Part 2 of our chat, I asked Tara how much her training routine changes – if at all – when she has a competition coming up? 

“It’s pretty much the same. If I’m doing a competition, that means I’m doing weight-training four days a week. I’ll put more effort into my cardio as well because I’ll need to drop weight for the competition, and I’ll obviously put more effort into my food. Food is major. I prep all my food. I walk around with my Tupperware when I’m in work, when I go to my parents house, everywhere. It’s the norm with me! That’s my lifestyle. I still have a meal here or there as well, I have to live as well, but I do prep my food, plan it, bring it with me, all of that. Food is probably more important than training. If you want to lose weight, it’s more important than going into the gym. Definitely.” 

Tara is also the lead midland’s instructor for the company Rinka, and just like powerlifting, it’s something that she’s  passionate about…

“I LOVE it! I would have loved it when I was a kid. It’s for kids who don’t fall into GAA, that don’t make the swimming team, that can’t kick the ball straight. It’s for them. Because what is there for them? There’s nothing. So, they fall off being active, they don’t enjoy sports because it’s so competitive. It’s for these kids. I do it everywhere, Athlone, Moate, different venues, sometimes birthday parties as well, schools, pre-schools, everywhere, you name it. We go in and make exercise fun. They’re in a sweat leaving! They’ve had so much fun. It’s so much craic. We’d do jumping-jacks, but for the little ones we’d get them to be like a soldier, so they have to be really serious. Or a star, and they have to have a big smile. They’re doing jumping-jacks and they don’t even realise it. Or it could be squat-jumps where they’re Peppa Pig jumping into a puddle, simple stuff like that. It’s really, really good for kids who don’t fall into competitive sports. It’s all about praise as well. If you have a child that missed nine out of the ten kicks, we focus on that one that they got and tell them how amazing it was, and how great they are. And if they can’t do something, you praise them for trying and giving it a go. They’re leaving the class after being active, and they’re feeling good about themselves.

Tara continued, “I adore it. I have kids who have nearly grown up with me, they’ve been doing it for three or four years. I get so much out of this kind of work. It’s going to be so interesting to see them as adults because they have this foundation in being active. We do mindfulness with them as well, so we talk about how if they’re feeling angry, they can calm themselves down with breathing [exercises]. We talk about healthy eating, we talk about how much water they should drink. In the space of fifty minutes, so much is packed in there, and I absolutely adore it. You can tell by me talking about it that I do [laughs]. I have a helper with me, because obviously for toilet-breaks and stuff like that to keep an eye on everyone, because we could have fourteen, fifteen kids in a class. And yeah, we do classes all over Ireland. RINKA have been on TV, on ‘Nationwide’, they’re an Irish company actually, based in Donegal. I’m the instructor for the midlands area.” 

So how did Tara become involved with RINKA? 

“I saw it advertised, and I was like, ‘Kids Fitness Instructor? Oh my God, I’d love this!’ [Laughs]. I’m nuts, I’m so on the level of kids [laughs]. We had a training day with RINKA, and they were just like, you’re perfect for it! I’m one of the kids, like!”

Although Tara herself isn’t the kind of person to even think of herself as being a role-model in a bigger-picture sense, for anybody on the outside looking in at her life and her achievements, there’s just no doubt that a role-model is exactly what she is. Through her work with RINKA, as well as being a Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor, and most importantly of all, of course, being a mum, Tara is more than well aware of the importance and the power of a positive example. But does it ever cross her mind how much of a role-model, whether she likes it or not, that she actually is for so many people? 

“I don’t really. I would like to think that I’m more relatable to people. I wouldn’t like somebody to look at me and say, ‘Wow, well I could never do that.’ I want the opposite of that. I want somebody to think, ‘If she can do it, I can do it!’ That’s what I want. I want to be relatable in that way. And that’s what it is. I mean, I WAS somebody who was never able to do a push-up. Or a pull-up! I always wanted to be able to do a pull-up! I always wanted to be able to do that. So that’s how I’d like to be seen, as someone who went out and proved she could, ya know. I’d never want to put myself on a pedestal. I’d be so embarrassed if I thought that! And I think on my Instagram as well, I think you can see that I don’t really put myself out there and… ‘sell’…this image that I’m whatever, glamorous, or amazing, or anything like that. I want to be very relatable. Because I am. I’m a normal person. I always encourage people to ask me questions. I’ve been from A to…, well, I don’t think I’m at Z yet! [Laughs]. I think I have more still to achieve [laughs]. But I’ve been every step of the way. I mean, when I started, I couldn’t run, so I was walking. I know how hard it is to get there, and how it has to be step-by-step. So people can come and ask me anything. It’s the same with my PT clients. Goals are very achievable things once you have the knowledge, and once you’re accepting of the fact that it won’t be a perfect and straight road as well.” 

Does Tara remember the moment when she knew or decided that she wanted to get into fitness as a career?

“I was actually working on reception here [in the Bridge House Hotel, where she now works in the Leisure Club], and I was powerlifting at that time, into fitness, and I was always training down in the gym. Damien, the gym manager at the time, would always be coming over to me at reception and joking, ‘You’re wasted here, wasted here!’ [laughs]. I had no gym qualifications at the time, but everybody knew how into fitness I was, so eventually we were able to arrange for me to make that switch over. And when I went over there, that’s when I went and got my qualifications so that I could teach as well. That was it. And I’ve never left! I’m like the furniture down there [laughs].” 

Who are the heroes or inspirations in Tara’s life? 

“There’s loads! I look up to all the girls on the ABS Powerlifting team. It’s a club with 150 members. And my God, if you think I’m strong, you need to see these girls! They’re incredible, unbelievable. When you train with them, man, they keep you on top of your game. They’re crazy strong. They’re travelling all over the world. When you train with them, they’re inspiring. ABS stands for Advanced Barbell Systems. It’s the biggest powerlifting club in Ireland. The guy that owns it is the Irish coach, he’s my coach when I’m powerlifting. The strongest people in Ireland are in that club. One of the guys there is squatting 430 kilos, that’s a LOT! It’s crazy! We actually had him down in the gym here for an open day. He might sound intimidating, but he’s really good craic, so he was entertaining. And my kids, of course! Daniel and Georgia. I always want to inspire them, and make them believe as they get older that they can achieve anything. And anything they want to be, that they can do it. And my partner, Carlos, he’s incredible. He’s bodybuilding at the moment, he’s very inspiring in his own right as well. What he’s going through [in his training], I wouldn’t have the self-discipline for. He’s from Spain, and we actually met through powerlifting. He’s extremely focused, way more than me, WAY more than me [laughs]. It’s inspiring to live with somebody like that because they can keep you on track. I’m a very boring person, because it’s all fitness orientated. So to be with someone who has the same interests, that’s great.” 

I wondered if Tara had a life-motto, or any piece of advice that she was ever given that has always stayed with her? 

“You get judged for being a woman and weight-lifting. You definitely get judged. But there’s a saying I love that goes, ‘To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.’ So women, don’t be afraid of weights. There’s a big misconception that you’re going to get bulky. Or a lot of people who I would have for PTs, they’d look at my upper body and be like, ‘I don’t want my upper body to get too big’, and I’m like, don’t worry, it took me a LOT of work to get this big. You won’t get that big. So don’t be afraid of lifting weights. It’s not gonna make you look like a man [laughs]. If anything, it’s very flattering, it’s a flattering look. When you go into the gym, don’t be afraid of lifting weights in front of guys, thinking they’re going to be judging you or anything like that. They should be in their own heads, and if they’re not, it means they’re not working hard enough [laughs]. That’s all important to realise. Things are changing now, strong women are seen as feminine.”

Anyone who follows Tara on Instagram will notice that she rarely posts a gym selfie or video minus her headphones. So what does she listen to to fire-up her work-outs? 

“You don’t want to know the stuff I listen to! [Laughs]. It’s f*&ed up! [Laughs]. It’s pretty heavy stuff. Depends on my mood. There’s a band called Neffex that I really love. The last competition that I had, they asked me which song did I want on my video, and I picked their song ‘Fight Back.’ I love that song, it’s very inspirational. I was training for something recently and I listened to the audio-book of ‘Relentless‘, it’s about a coach called Tim Grover who worked with Michael Jordan, and he talks about different athletes and their mentality, and how to be relentless. Some of the things in it are a bit too much, because you can’t just give up on family life, you need a balance to things. But it’s very interesting in terms of the mentality that the likes of Michael Jordan had, and how zoned-in they were on being successful. They’d win a whole tournament, and straight away be like, I want the next one! ‘Relentless’, excellent book!”

So for somebody thinking about trying to get fit but they’re worried about it, nervous about it, or they just don’t know where to start, what would Tara advise them to do? 

“If you’re a complete beginner, definitely get a coach or an instructor. That’s what they’re there for. And they’ll definitely be 100% on your team. Because it is, it’s scary at the start. A lot of women say to me that they’re intimidated going into the weights-room in a gym, but I’m like, girl, they don’t know what they’re doing either! [Laughs]. But if you have somebody with you who shows you the ropes, so you can have the confidence to know you have the correct form and everything, that’s important. So to start off anyway, and that’s not saying that you’ll need one all the time. And take it step-by-step. A lot of people, when they’re dieting, they’ll start where they’re eating whatever they want, but then they go to 1,600 calories, and for me that’s insane. You want to be losing weight on as much food as possible. I would always say start high and work your way down slowly, because you will plateau. And if you start plateauing at 1,600 calories, where do you go from there? If you go to 1,400, it’s just not gonna happen, you’ll fall off track. Then you’ll just beat yourself up about it. Slow and steady wins the race.” 

Do different diets – vegan or vegetarian, for example – affect how people can train? 

“No, I don’t think so. Once they’re getting enough protein in other ways, I don’t think it would affect things, definitely not. But Keto, and things like that, I don’t really agree with cutting back on carbs, especially if you’re training. Not a good idea! The girl that I went up against in Berlin, she was a vegan. And she was strong! [Laughs].” 

And what about advice for someone who might be really struggling with their motivation, either to get back to training or to stay training? What words of wisdom would Tara offer in those circumstances? 

“I would say that 80% is better than 0%. A lot of people go in and go hell for leather, 100%. But if you have one day of sitting on your ass and not eating chicken and rice, that’s ok. But people have this mentality where it has to be all or nothing. There needs to be a bit of consistency. If you put 80% in, that’s so much better than nothing. 20% is nothing. It’s like an overweight person eating one healthy meal and expecting to lose weight. If you’re keeping on track and you have one bad meal, you’re not going to put on weight. Just be fair on yourself. It doesn’t have to be 100% [all the time]. Don’t rely on motivation. Be disciplined. Have your structure. It will be difficult in the beginning, but eventually you will completely rely on it, and you’ll actually enjoy that structure. 

~ You can find, follow, and contact Tara on Instagram at @tinypowermum

ENDS

TARA MOONEY

First Published November 2021

UNBREAKABLE

Part 1

It says a lot about how humble someone is when you can spend the best part of an hour talking to them about their life and career in fitness, and it’s only after you’ve finished that they just happen to mention in passing about that time when they broke their back once. It reveals more than just a genuine humility too. It hints at strength of mind that’s close to ironclad. Your body simply won’t bounce back from something like a broken back – and eventually lead you into the world of competitive powerlifting – unless your mind is totally under your control, and is a constantly stoked furnace fuelling your thoughts every day.

But that’s TARA MOONEY for you, humble, and pretty much unbreakable.

There are several different titles you can apply to the Edenderry native in trying to describe her.

Tara is a fitness instructor, a personal trainer, a fierce competitor and a proven warrior when it comes to powerlifting, and one of Rinka’s lead instructors in Ireland. But the truth is that none of those –either alone or combined – quite do her justice.

There’s more to her than just what she does. The secret to appreciating the presence of a spirit like hers in this world is to watch how such a spirit does things. Listen to how positive they always are when they talk. Be aware of how often they laugh. Take in how easily they can laugh at themselves, too. And pay attention to how passionate they become when they talk about the joy that helping others brings them.

If you ever have the chance to sit in conversation with Tara for even a little while, you’ll experience all of the above, and in abundance.

The same Tara who didn’t think that bouncing back from a broken back was any big deal, probably won’t think there’s anything too special about all those other things either. But that’s what some of the world’s best souls are always like. It’s because they’re humble that they’re unbreakable. And it’s because they’re unbreakable that they’re inspirational.

When I had the pleasure of sitting down with Tara for a chat about her life as a competitive powerlifter, and so much more, I began by asking her to explain the difference between powerlifting and weightlifting…

“They’re completely different. With weightlifting, you have your Olympic weightlifting – what you see there – but with powerlifting, you have three different lifts in the competition. You have your squat, your bench, and your deadlift. The whole idea is that the squat is power for your legs, the bench is your push-power, and your deadlift is your pull-power. It’s challenging and testing all of those areas. So to be good at it, you need to be good at all three. With weightlifting, it’s usually one lift that people do. It might be a clean-and-jerk, maybe a snatch or something like that. It’s just about getting the weight over their head or off the ground. But powerlifting is a strength test. In powerlifting you have to do all three. Now, you can do single-lifts, which is just push, which is bench. Or just deadlift, no squat. But generally, it’s all three lifts. You get three chances at each one and your highest one – the one you get the most weight in – is taken, and they’re all added for your total. You get to pick your first lift. So it can be complicated as well. Say if I go in with a 100 kilo squat, well if I don’t get that, I can’t go back down with my weight. Your second attempt has to be 100 kilos as well. If you go to a third attempt, and you don’t get it again, you’re out of the competition, and you don’t even get to the bench. Now, if you get your 100 kilos, you can go up by 2.5 kilos. So you can progress that way. But you need to be really careful about your first lift.” 

So there’s actually tactics involved really? 

“Absolutely, yeah. So you’ll be in a competition with a [weight] class, and I’ve done this before to win a competition. It was neck and neck with another girl. For your points at the end, the lower your body-weight and the more you lift, the more points you get. So we were neck and neck. I put in that I was doing a 150 kilo deadlift, so she went in with a number then to basically beat me. She went and she lifted that. But you can change again for your last deadlift. I did that, got the lift, and I won it. So I kinda tricked her [laughs]. So yeah, it is tactical, absolutely.” 

And is it tactical in the sense that you can also prepare tactics beforehand, as opposed to on the fly? 

“You prepare for it. Your opener, your first lift, you want it to be something you’ll get any day of the week. You go in there, you smash it, you’ve got it. The nerves will get at you, so you want it to be something that you know you’ll get. But, on the day you could go in, do your warm-up, and you just don’t feel it. So you could go down [on weight], you can change before the competition starts. I always say that my first lift will be something that I’ll hit comfortably any day of the week. My second lift is near enough my max. And the third lift, let’s go hell-for-leather! Let’s just f$&king go for it [laughs].” 

One of the most remarkable parts of Tara’s story is how, just nine months after beginning to train – while still working in an office, and being a single mum to her children Daniel and Georgia – she ended up being flown to Berlin to battle a famous German fitness model Cornelia Ritzke, a contest which has now been viewed almost 1.5 million times on YouTube. But before we spoke about Berlin itself, I asked Tara to take me back in time to nine months before that, when all of this began…

“I’d had kids, put on a bit of weight when I got pregnant, and like 90% of women I said I’m going to go to the gym and lose the baby weight. Now, I started from complete scratch, I mean I couldn’t do a single push-up. I was doing classes and getting programs from fitness instructors and I really enjoyed it. It was my hour away from the kids as well, so I used that as my me-time. I was doing a little bit of weights, on the treadmill running, didn’t really know what I was doing, it was very basic stuff. A guy that I was starting to see was into powerlifting, and he was down one end of the gym lifting crazy weights and shouting, all this mad stuff going on! [Laughs]. I was down with my little dumbbells doing my biceps curls! So they said to me to come up and do a bit of lifting, and I was actually so intimidated, but I said you know what, I’ll give it a go. The first lift I did was a deadlift, and I was hitting alright numbers, I think I started with 80 kilos, and I was about 50 kilos at the time, so that was a decent enough number for that weight, considering I’d never done anything before.”

“But I suppose”, continued Tara, “because I’d done horse-riding before, I did have a little bit of an athletic background before I had the kids, that probably stood to me. There was a bit of strength there. But in a matter of weeks, I was up over 100 kilos. Now, when I look back, my form was terrible, I don’t know how I didn’t break myself up [laughs]. But, I could lift that weight. So then there was a bench-press competition in Tullamore – and I’m somebody who just says yes to everything, I’m a yes girl [laughs] – and I said, I’ll do it! I’ve never bench-pressed before in my life, but I’ll practise and train for it. And I came third in that. For women, it was half your body weight, as many reps as possible. So for me, I think it was something like 30 kilos, and I did it for 30 reps, which was decent enough. I had only trained for three weeks! That was it, I was hooked! I was like, I absolutely love this! So I started training, signed myself up for my first powerlifting competition, went and did that. And again, when I look back [laughs], I’m like oh my God! I was terrible [laughs]. I mean, I lifted decent weights, but I looked terrible doing it. And I thought I knew what I was doing! But that was it. I loved it, and I just never looked back.” 

Was it the adrenaline that Tara became hooked on?

“It’s chasing the numbers. Everyone goes to the gym because you want to look good. But that’s something that’s just so broad to try and achieve, you’re never gonna hit it, you’re never gonna be happy. You can get lean, build this, tone down on that, but you’ll still pick yourself apart. So you come out of the gym, yeah, you’ve had an alright session, but you still haven’t hit your goal. With powerlifting, you’re chasing numbers. You’re preparing for competitions. So when you go in there [to the gym], it’s performance based. And you hit it. You go there, you do what’s got to be done, you hit your numbers, you tick things off the list, and you achieve something. You walk out of there and you feel like you’ve achieved something, rather than this unattainable goal of ‘looking right.’ It’s completely different. That’s why my mindset changed. I felt like I was training for performance, and that makes you feel good about yourself.” 

So, onto Berlin! How did that happen?

“Because I’m a yes girl! [Laughs]. The guy that I was seeing, we used to watch this show called ‘Strength Wars’ on YouTube. It used to come out every week. They’d have these crazy strong guys from different countries that would battle each other. It was like a tournament and the guys that won the most matches would fight each other in the final. Then they started advertising that they were going to do a female version, which had never been done before. The girl I ended up going against, I’d seen her on ‘Strength Wars’ before, because it’s a German show, and I was always looking at her and going, holy crap, she’s amazing and she looks so strong. I put her way up here [on a pedestal], unbelievable. So we said we’d put my name down for the craic [laughs]. They got back in touch asking me what could I deadlift, can you do pull-ups…I was like, yeah, I can do pull-ups…but I couldn’t! [Laughs]. I was like, ‘Yeah, of course I can!’ [Laughs]. I didn’t think I was going to get picked! Two or three weeks later, I got a message saying congratulations, you’ve been picked to go. So I thought, awesome, I’ll learn all these things that I said I could do [laughs].”

Tara continued, “So I asked them how long did I have [until the competition], and they said three weeks! And I was like, daaaamn! [laughs]. So I went to the gym, and I got a pull-up bar and I mean I practised pull-ups every…single…day! I made a rule with myself that everytime I passed through my bedroom door, I would do as many pull-ups as I could. So I’d start off with just one…and barely. Then the next day, I’d try and get more. And I did that consistently for three weeks.  Now ok, when I look back on that show, I did crappy pull-ups [laughs]. But, I did 35 after only three weeks training. They’d never done that show before, and they’ve never done it since. She was a fitness model, kind of a glamour model as well, a huge Instagram following in Germany, and I was the complete opposite. She was seeing the producer of the show, and I think she wanted an easy win, but I’ll tell ya, I gave her a run for her money! [Laughs]. She was on magazine covers and everything, and I was a mum from Tullamore, with two kids, and working in an office in a hotel! I knew I was going in as the underdog, but I’m the most determined person you’ll ever meet. I didn’t win, but I only lost by 3 reps for the whole thing. But I was happy because I’d only been doing it for a few months. And I dominated all the way up to the last pull-ups. I was kicking her ass [laughs]. Then it was burpees to pull-ups and I just couldn’t get my chin over the bar, I kept getting no-repped, I just couldn’t do it anymore. But everyone was so nice. And all the comments underneath the video were people saying they couldn’t believe how well I did because I was just a normal, average mum from Ireland!” 

She continued, “I was a sales and marketing executive at the time, and I used to train on my lunch-break. I had kids, I was single at that time, I was living on my own [with my kids]. The only time I could train was lunch. We had an hour break. I’d bring my gym stuff, get changed, go train in the gym at work, and then go back to work again after. I was determined! [Laughs].

Speaking of strength of mind and attitude, most people probably think of big, huge brutes of men when they think of powerlifting, mainly because so many still think of strength as only being muscle, and the kind that’s immediately visible to the eye. Now Tara – who is also a model on top of everything else – is most definitely not a big huge brute of a man. But her story, I think, perfectly illustrates the kind of strength that isn’t always apparent in someone, and that’s strength of mind, discipline. I asked her to talk to me about the importance of mindset and attitude in what she does…

“Yeah, listen, you need to put the work in, definitely. It’s hard to juggle everything and keep everything balanced, but it is [about] routine at the end of the day. You can never rely on motivation. It comes and goes. But if you’re disciplined and follow a structure…, like, nobody wants to go into work, but we all do. It’s the same with the gym. If you really want to get something – it doesn’t even have to be with the gym – you pop it into your day, it happens at this time, and that’s it. And your mind-set has to be about how bad do you want something.”

So how did Tara develop her mind-set, or was it just something she’s had all of her life?

“I’ve always been stubborn, I suppose [laughs]. But when I was younger, I wasn’t athletic or anything like that. I never made teams when I was younger, I was never very good at anything at all. But I was always determined, I just never knew how to focus it in on something. When I started powerlifting I was after going through the break-up with my kids’ dad, and I suppose powerlifting was like a focus for me, to take my mind off things, because obviously that’s a hard time. So I was able then to focus that determination on something that was going to bring good into my life. But it wasn’t just with powerlifting, because then I wanted to try something else, so then I did CrossFit. Then running. So I kind of learned how you can apply your mindset to different things in your life.

In sport, you have to have the right mind-set to achieve the kind of success that you want. But also in life, if you have the right mind-set…

Absolutely! You can learn to adapt to things. When we’re younger we want to have fun and stuff like that. When I was in my twenties, I didn’t really care about career or anything like that. But when you have kids, you need to focus in on things, not just really for yourself but to provide for your kids. So you need to learn how to adapt your focus. It wasn’t until I hit my thirties that all of this – everything fitness related – happened to me. I had done horse-riding, but that was it. My twenties were completely devoted to my kids. I had them when I was twenty-four, so I rarely left the house. I just worked part-time, I just raised my kids. I went for runs and stuff like that. But it wasn’t until my thirties, when I had that break-up, that I said you know what…I’m just going to live my life. I want to do things. So anything that I hadn’t done, I was just going to say yes to. So it’s never too late, it’s NEVER too late. Definitely not.”

To be in the shape that Tara is in, and to do all of the things she does, that obviously doesn’t just happen. So what’s a typical training day or training week like for her?

“It depends on how I’m working. I take time off sometimes because I always say that if you don’t do that, your body will make you do it. You’ll pick up an injury. So when I feel like I’m getting tired, I’ll take time off. I’m getting back into things now, so what I’d generally do is in the morning – if I wake up early enough [laughs] – I’ll go and do a walk or a little bit of cardio. I find it’s a good way to start your day off. I’ll drop the kids to school, then if I don’t have PT clients, or work with RINKA – because I work in kids fitness as well – then I’m into the gym to train myself. I like to get my training done as early as I can in the morning. If I’m working, I’ll get it done straight after. That’s when I’ll do my weight training. If I don’t have weight training, I’ll do my cardio that day. Then I’m back home looking after the kids, then maybe my RINKA classes. And then in the evening it’s family time. I don’t dedicate an awful lot of time to it [training], maybe an hour to two hours a day, max. That’s all you need. It’s about consistency, about just doing it five days a week, every week, instead of being in there three hours one or two days a week. You’re just not gonna get results from that.”

~ You can find, follow, and contact Tara on Instagram at @tinypowermum

ENDS