The Gar Benn Story

To give people a better insight into the people behind CityGym we will be writing a little piece on each coach, starting with Gar Benn, owner and founder of CityGym.

From starting up a little company – to where I am now has been a long time coming around. I made a lot of moves in the wrong direction, and had so many setbacks that I thought I’d never be here... I suppose it all started when my lungs collapsed for the first time.

To be more specific, my right lung collapsed. I can’t describe the pain that a patient with this condition feels; only someone who has suffered a collapsed lung can appreciate what I’m talking about. Spontaneous pneumothorax is the official term for a collapsed lung. Pneumothorax is the collapsed lung part, and it’s described as spontaneous because, to this day, doctors all over the world can’t figure out why it happens. (To find out more on our “CityGym Spontaneous Pneumothorax Support Group” click here) Now, imagine lying in hospital after a very painful surgery in which a tube was placed in to your lung to drain any remaining air while you were still awake on the table.

After this, there is a doctor at your bedside telling you he doesn’t know why it happened. He even went as far as consulting a medical textbook, which said it occurs 90% of the time in, “Tall, thin, young males, and more commonly with fair hair, between the ages of 18-23”. This perfectly describes me at the time my lung first collapsed.

I wasn’t the tallest by any means, but I was eighteen years old, and under 10 stone at 5’11”. My diet was abysmal, and basically non-existent; I lived off Rice Krispie bars, Jaffa Cakes, and fizzy drinks. My only healthy eating in a day was whatever my mom made for lunches and dinners. I had no interest in what food could do for how I felt on a day-to-day basis, nor had I any interest in exercise. I was also an official cool dude with a car that didn’t need to walk anywhere. I had a part-time job, which meant I no longer played football anymore because my weekends were jammed up in the shop where I worked. Did I make up for this by putting in physical activity other times during the week? Of course not. I got lazy – I mean really lazy.

After my three-month stint in the hospital, I took a lot of time out of school. I frequently suffered panic attacks, and spent a lot of my time writhing around in pain with scar tissue. I did my leaving cert after missing most of my senior cycle in secondary school. I got a course that I thought would suit me. Like every other leaving cert student, I didn’t get much information before picking my course. I ended up in something that I didn’t particularly like, but I was determined to stick at it because I had started it.

Coming towards the end of my first year in college, just about when my panic attacks had stopped and I had come to believe that my lungs were not going to collapse again, my worst fear came true: my right lung collapsed a second time. A double strike in the pneumothorax world means a trip to the head thoracic unit in Dublin for major surgery. So, here I am 366 days later. One year and one day after my first attack, and I’m in Dublin facing this frightening surgery in which doctors will cut off an outside layer of my lung in order to fix it up. Fast forward another four months of hospital time, and I’m in the healing process again. My weight has dropped down dramatically to just over 7 stone! This time, coming to my own conclusions, I realized that I’m unfit and that’s why this is happening. I returned to do my exams in college, and passed through to second year. The only problem is I’m running myself into the ground trying to get fit. Putting in 5-6 weight lifting sessions a week, on top of 4-5 cardio sessions, without using solid nutrition to recover optimally and it had disastrous repercussions. I ended up sleeping badly, feeling terrible on a day-to-day basis, and feeling moody all the time. As a further blow, all of these affect my appetite, and cause me to eat less and eat poorly whenever I do eat.

We’re now up to the point where I decided to change my life. If you can believe this, my right lung has been put in place for life. But, out of the blue at the end of second year in college, my left lung goes. This time, I didn't even really care.

I just accepted the fact that it had happened, and that I had to put in place a plan to change my life completely. As soon as I left the hospital, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to change how people live and how they feel every day, whether it is how they feel when they wake up, how they feel when they look in the mirror, or how they feel when they enter a gym and know they are going to achieve something out of the ordinary. The problem was that I was still enrolled in college. No worries, I thought, I’ll just drop out to become a personal trainer. So I just went and did it. I admit now that it was a rash decision to drop out so unexpectedly, but luckily enough it worked out. I had wanted to try a PT course part-time for quite a while at this stage, and had been looking into different courses. I became a PT but that course alone wasn’t enough, however. I wanted to cover the nutrition side of it. I went with Precision Nutrition. I can see why it’s so widely accredited; it provides an excellently structured take on a complex subject.

 After that last collapse, I was left a skeleton once again at just over 8 stone. However, I was determined not to be the “tall thin male” whose lungs collapse every year, so I pushed myself every day to become who I wanted to be. One doctor asked me before I left the hospital, “Gearoid, have you any hobbies?”, and I told him that I loved weight lifting and running. He told me any gym work was dangerous, and that I should never lift weights again. Intending no disrespect, I asked him how he came to that conclusion if nobody knew why a collapsed lung occurs. He was left baffled, and I was more determined to lift as big as I could. But I wasn’t going to lift big at my weight of just over 50kg, and my posture had been warped inwards from so many months of lying in a hospital bed. I worked on my posture and scar tissue every day, and kept eating right while training hard until I was up at 72kg. I then decided to enter my first power lifting contest, and ended up setting the national record in my weight class.

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That brings us all the way up to starting Personal Training Limerick, my first project with two great friends and fellow coaches Mark and Trish. Our small Personal Training and Circuits Company moved between 4 gyms in Limerick and we’ve been blessed to meet so many great people day in and day out and they’re the ones who make our job so fantastic. Every day with Personal Training Limerick I tried to find the best way to do something new for my clients and for myself. People picked up on our enthusiasm and the fact that we looked at the whole picture rather than just the gym. We took apart peoples nutrition, how they moved on a daily basis and talked mindset day in and day out.  Just 51 weeks after Personal Training Limerick was started I celebrated my 25th birthday and opened my own facility-CityGym. It has been both humbling and exciting to start a gym and receive so much brilliant feedback from the people I've been lucky enough to train with. We’re still hungry and constantly planning for a bigger and brighter future for everyone involved here at CityGym. I can’t thank everyone enough who has set foot in this facility and the rest of our coaches here for the support they have shown me. I am truly grateful.