A veritable women’s army of strength built from Donegal fit-camp

From Muff with love - it's Maria's army.
From Muff with love – it’s Maria’s army.


By Grainne McCool @GrainneMccool

WHEN some people stop and think of a women’s 5.45am fit-camp – they might visualise pain and misery – but the ladies of Muff have built an empowered female army of strength with the gruelling exercise classes.

Muff may be a village mocked for the comedic connotations of its name – and as we sit here nestled on the top of Ireland, those down in the Irish capital could easily forget our very existence.

But the women of Muff are keeping the home fires burning with Maria McColgan – the sergeant major at the heart of our fitness army, ‘Mia Fun Fitness.’

I began going to Maria’s classes on a regular basis in April 2014.  She taught me that anything is possible, gave me a new sense of belief in myself.  

And although I had lived in this village for 20 years I really didn’t know a lot of people.

Since meeting Maria and the gang, I now have some very good friends and a whole new social circle.

Maria encourages, motivates and supports each and every lady in a different way.

She doesn’t take anyone on as a client. Each and every one of the ladies becomes a friend.

I have reached a new level of fitness that I never thought possible and that extends to a psychological well-being as well.

Pushing it to the limits - Maria's girls on a run.
Pushing it to the limits – Maria’s girls on a run.

Maria started the classes six years ago, as a young lady.  The group started with humble aerobics, followed by circuits and the rather exotic boxercise class.

But not long after their inception, the classes were about much more than fitness, they were about women, and a community coming together and they soared in popularity.

For a number of years, Maria has also run the women’s ‘fit camp’ in the village. Until August this year it ran three mornings a week at 6.15am. Since October it operated two mornings weekly.

Maria said:  “I always loved fitness and got an opportunity to do my fitness instruction certificate with the ladies I worked with, and it all kicked off from there.

“From a very young age it was all I wanted to do, but life and education took me in a different direction.  

“I’m just blessed I get to do this in my spare time and with the fantastic people I get to spend time with.”

On a Tuesday and Thursday morning in Muff, women from 18 right up to 50 and over, meet at the local clubhouse to exercise for an hour.

In the summer of 2014 Maria completed her first marathon in Derry but she wasn’t finished there.  

She decided to embark on a new venture with her friends, her exercise group.

For three evenings a week added to the three mornings, she invited the ladies to join her on a run. Within six weeks the group had completed their first official 5 k with the Derry City Park Run.

Now the group are regular faces at a variety of 5 and 10 ks in between our every day duties as mothers, wives, grandmothers and career women.

In September 2015 four of the ladies completed their first half marathon and we are still running.  Maria has undoubtedly become an inspiration within this small community, which stands at the far end of Donegal.

She does not see the classes as work and spurring the women of the community on to achieve more, seems to be her natural calling.

Maria’s girls feel empowered, not just physically but psychologically.  

In a rural community it is so easy to become isolated and with our busy lives, it is easy to sometimes neglect exercise and friendship – two of the most important factors at keeping us, as human beings, happy and healthy.

These classes might seem a small thing to those on the outside, a pain to many when they consider the hours we rise for exercise, but for us, within the group, we have gained something so powerful – a group of friends that will last a lifetime.

Maria's girls run, laugh, cry and dance together.
Maria’s girls run, laugh, cry and dance together.

When we aren’t exercising, there’s always a reason for a night out. And when one of the said nights out happens, it’s time to beware.  A mini ‘fit camp’ will inevitably take place on the dance floor.

Teresa Moyne, one of Maria’s girls, said:  “I go to her classes because she thinks we’re worth getting up for at silly o’clock to help us try to get fit – and I love her energy and enthusiasm.”

Siobhan O’Hagan said:  “Maria is a brilliant motivator and makes everyone feel at ease.  Her classes are always fun.”  

Another regular, Claire Rutherford, sums up Maria and her contribution to each and every one of these ladies.  She said:  “I love going to Maria’s classes as there’s always a great laugh and she makes it feel like fun rather than a boring work-out.

“I have been going to her classes on and off for over five years now and I have never seen Maria in bad or dull form.

“She is always smiling and joking with us and it actually makes those Bob the Builders, Ski jumps and press-ups less intense.

“She really makes you believe in yourself.  For instance she is a runner and I said to her a year ago that I would love to run but I can’t.

“She told me to come along one night.  I went and it was so hard that after 60 seconds, I was walking again.

“Maria encouraged me to stick at it for four weeks before giving up.  I’m so glad I listened to her because one year later I ran the Derry Waterside Half Marathon – all thanks to Maria.

“I felt so proud of myself on completion and my family were equally proud of me.  

“Her classes are brilliant and it’s a great wee group.  I love getting up at 5.45am just for them.”

Maria said:  “I never look on it as a job.  I get my motivation from others.  

“Seeing someone do something they never thought they could is just an absolute privilege.

I’ve seen people break their boundaries constantly without realising that they are inspiring others in the process.

Young and the not so young ladies from  Muff have joined the morning classes.  The group has grown from strength-to-strength.  We are almost family.

“I think the youngest person ever to have joined would have been about 14, not counting my niece who I had pole-dancing from the age of about five.

“And the most mature lady would probably be miss inspiration herself – my mammy,” Maria said.

Maria and her mammy, Margie.
Maria and her mammy, Margie.

“If I have my way I’ll be in a retirement home getting the folks going.”

Like I say, to many early morning fit-camp in the middle of Muff might seem a nightmare to some – but guess what, we found our own little slice of heaven.

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