Hardworking, smart, and courageous are the first words that come to my mind when describing Cormac Byrne, the owner of Bluezone Fitness; a boutique gym in north Wexford.

Born and raised on a farm in Coolkenno, which straddles the Carlow border, the proud Wicklow man has just completed his first full year in business – which posed more obstacles than he could have ever imagined. But obstacles are not there to stop you, only to challenge you. Cormac reflects on the year that has been; where he not only grew his client base, but also provided employment for seven people along the way.

A work ethic learned

Growing up on a sheep farm, hard work was never too far away, Cormac tells Irish Country Living. This is a testament to his work ethic today.

“I am from a big farming background, my dad is a farmer, my uncles are farmers and my mam is a teacher,” he says. “My dad is into his 60s and he would be out working all hours. That type of work ethic is what I have grown up with, and it’s what I’m used to.

“When it comes to gym hours, early mornings and late nights just come as second nature to me. In a weird way, it’s not like work, and I think the farming is the same for my father, we just love what we do”

The love of GAA from an early age was one of the first realisations for Cormac that he enjoyed fitness. Having played with his local club Coolkenno, he also featured on some of the Wicklow county teams at an underage level. However, at 16 he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – a diagnosis that would become a focal point in Cormac’s athletic journey.

Diagnoised with Crohn’s disease

“When I was about 16 I got very ill,” Cormac shares. “I was getting really bad pains and the doctors thought it was my appendix, but it turned out I had Crohn’s disease. I ended up in the intensive care unit for a few weeks, and in the space of a year I spent about three or four months in hospital, so it was quite a long stint. Then, when I was doing my Leaving Cert I was back in for a couple of months again, over a two-year period I’d say I was in hospital for about five months and had six or seven surgeries.”

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease and is something Cormac will have to live with. However, he considers himself one of the lucky ones as he can manage the disease and lead a normal life.

Inspired to help people

“When I was in hospital that time, at such a young age, I would have seen people who were very ill and it hit home with me how important it was to be healthy,” he explains. “With my illness, there was nothing I could really do, but I saw a lot of people with heart conditions who didn’t look after themselves, and that could have been prevented.

“Even look at farmers now, there is a really high level of heart disease in [the farming community] and you’d think it wouldn’t be the case when they are working outdoors and walking around, but it is quiet prevalent,” he continues. “We can all start looking after our own health better and that is what inspired me – I needed to look after myself with my own illness, but I wanted to help others.”

Getting the qualification

After completing his Leaving Cert in Coláiste Bhride Carnew, Cormac completed a bachelor’s degree in sports science and health from Tallaght IT, followed by a personal training qualification from University College Dublin. To gain work experience, Cormac chanced his arm and emailed some of the top personal trainers in the country.

“I suppose starting my own business is something that I always wanted to do,” he says. “The first year I qualified from college, I emailed the top personal trainers in the country. I thought I could learn from these people, who have started their own business and made the mistakes already. I was lucky enough that they all responded and I got the chance to work for the likes of Karl Henry, who is on Operation Transformation.”

Opening Bluezone Fitness

Having gained experience working as a personal trainer in Dublin and Gorey, in 2020 Cormac decided it was time to put the wheels in motion and make the mistakes for himself, launching Bluezone Fitness.

“We are based online and in a boutique studio, so we work with everyone, from beginners to professional athletes and the general population,” he says. “The name Bluezone Fitness is not just a random name, bluezones are small areas in the world where people are the healthiest and live the longest due to their lifestyle. This is my main aim for my clients, so I thought it would be an interesting name for the business.”

When the first lockdown hit in March, as with thousands of other business owners across the country, the fresh-face entrepreneur found himself in a sink-or-swim situation. Through the power of online training and social media advertising, Bluezone Fitness not only retained its clients during the first lockdown – it doubled its client numbers by the time outdoor exercise returned in June.

Growing the business in a lockdown

“It is a bit mad when you look at it, from where we started,” he says. “It’s the type of thing where I could have sat back and done nothing and hoped for the best, but it was the kind of situation where I controlled what I could control.”

In addition to employing seven people in the space of a year, Cormac has managed to open a new boutique gym in Crannford GAA complex.

“The new studio was built in the second lockdown; we had an interior designer come into the gym and design the place. I had an idea in my head that I wanted an eco-friendly gym. Everything is made out of reusable material, all the way down to the paint on the walls, so it is a great space.”

Advice for training in 2021

Now that gyms have closed and online training has resumed once again, Cormac maintains: “Just because gyms aren’t open, doesn’t mean you can’t exercise.

“I would advise people looking to get into fitness not to take on too much at first, build it up gradually,” he says. “There is no point in taking on too much at the start and falling off the wagon two weeks in. Maybe go for more a lifestyle change, even if it’s getting out for a few steps or doing a few squats or press-ups. It is an old cliché, start off small and gradually build it up.” CL