It's no sweat! Four couples who found love at the gym
Given up trying to find that special someone in a bar? Kerry McKittrick meets four Ulster couples who took a healthier approach to romance
If you thought a city centre bar or a heaving nightclub were the prime spots to meet potential new suitors, think again. It seems that the gym, boot camp and park runs are now the ideal places to be seen if you are on the lookout for meeting that special someone in Northern Ireland.
You might not look your best with dishevelled hair, a warm glow and wearing your oldest tracksuit bottoms, but sharing a common interest in fitness can be a good jumping off point for a new relationship - or at the very least an exciting flirtation.
The workouts are good for the libido too, as a survey by dating site Match.com found that singletons who exercised at least twice a week were likely to enjoy a bit of bedroom action at least once a month. So if you're seeking your next big adventure it's time to pull on those trainers and dig out that sweatband, as we chat to four local couples whose eyes met across a busy gym floor.
'At first we kept our romance very quiet'
Melissa Graham (39) lives in Holywood with her husband Darren (45) and works as a fitness instructor. She says:
Darren and I met at Class Fitness in Bangor - he owned the gym and at the time, I owned my own lingerie shop in the town.
Class Fitness was predominantly about classes such as body attack or body fitness. I was going just for fitness and because I ran my own business it was my time to clear my head.
A group of my girlfriends would all go together but meeting men was the last thing on my mind when I got there. There are girls who look the same at the end of the class as at the beginning, with their hair and make-up still in place, but I'm not one of those. I look terrible.
Darren was a partner in the business and took a lot of the classes but it was in the spin session that I really noticed him.
I would often get to class early for no other reason than if I had gone home and sat down on the sofa I would never have got up again. I would shut up the shop, go and get changed and then hang out for a while in the little coffee area they had at the gym. That period just before Christmas was a bit quiet and Darren would have been at the reception desk close by so we just started chatting about health and fitness. He even loaned me a book on nutrition and healthy eating.
Eventually Darren asked me out via email and it was a real shock to me. He did it that way because he was very conscious of the fact that he was the business owner and didn't want me to feel awkward or under any pressure. I emailed him back and said yes, but that he would have to ask me out in person.
We tried to keep it very quiet when we started going out. The gym is a hotbed of gossip and we didn't want to jump the gun in case we decided we weren't suited for each other.
I've always loved fitness and participated in it, but going out with Darren has encouraged me to retrain as a fitness instructor.
I've been going to gyms for years now, and flirting and dating certainly does happen. I never went to the gym for that reason, though, and neither did my friends but there are people who do. They tend to look fabulous so you can't help wondering if they're really there to work out.
Gyms are getting more sociable - the more luxury clubs now have things like juice bars and social areas - but I guess they've always been a place for people to meet."
‘I’d go to the gym just so that I could see Brian’
Hairdresser Rachel Donovan (29) is married to Brian Donovan (35) and lives in Belfast. She says:
now, I go to the gym regularly but when I started going to former boxer Brian Magee's gym, Magee Health & Fitness in Belfast four years ago, it was probably the first time I'd ever been to anything like that.
I signed up for the circuits class with my sister as she had decided to lose weight. A guy she worked with - Brian - recommended the circuits class to her and I said I would go with another friend of ours. I thought it was a nice way to keep fit and meet people.
I was introduced to Brian the first time I went to the class and I thought he was nice. I was mortified, though, because I hadn't ever exercised that hard before; I nearly fainted and had to go outside. Brian was the one who came outside to see that I was okay. We kept going to the class and Brian being there certainly encouraged me to keep at it. I even went on my own just to see him.
At the time, Brian Magee would run nights out for members of the gym and, again, I went along hoping that Brian was there, which he was. That was quite an interesting night as we got to see everyone as they normally look - not working hard in the gym.
Brian and I got married last summer and we still train together, usually going to classes at Magee's. I probably wouldn't go if Brian wasn't so into it, but he encourages me so much. It is a common interest for us, though, and I feel better in myself when I do go.
I think it's a better way to meet someone than when you've had a few in a bar. You tend to have a common interest in the gym, so you have a starting point."
'I was a little nervous about dating a client'
Ross Masterson (28) is a personal trainer at Fitness First in Belfast and is in a relationship with Emily-Jane Heron (27), who runs a farm shop in Lisburn. He says:
I've been a trainer for three and a half years and Fitness First is a big, busy gym. There are a few people who have met a significant other in the gym and one of the other personal trainers is actually married to someone he met there.
I met Emily-Jane because I trained her sister at the gym for her wedding. Through her, I got to know Emily-Jane, who then started training with me and that was it really, I asked her out and we started dating.
I was a little bit nervous dating a client but we decided to keep it under wraps for a while until we knew if it was going to turn into something serious or not. You can get a bit of a name for yourself in this industry for being a big flirt who only wants one thing, and I was keen to avoid that.
Once we realised that our relationship was going to go somewhere, I obviously couldn't accept money off Emily-Jane any more so I stopped training her. We've been together nearly a year now.
I'm a trainer and I box, too, but I don't find a lot of women will come to me for training just because they fancy me. Most of my client base have been coming to me for about three years and have fixed goals. You can spot people who are there just to be seen and aren't serious about training and I don't take clients like that on. I go out of my way to avoid the kind of client who comes into the gym with fresh make-up on and their hair done up.
It all depends on what you want to get out of the gym. There's a relaxation area and there are lots of classes so you will meet people if you're doing those. I see a lot of people who have just come out of relationships or want to get over one and vent their feelings by training."
'It was a few months before we went out'
Tracey Rodgers (47) is the director of model agency Style Academy. She lives in Belfast with her husband Stefan Rodgers (41), a personal trainer. She says:
I met Stefan in the winter of 2011. I was asked to do a Strictly Come Dancing competition and Stefan had just opened his own gym so I went to him for some training sessions.
If you go to a regular gym you can't help but notice men working out and flexing their muscles in the mirror but I wouldn't go near them because at the gym you tend to look your worst. You don't want to catch anyone's eye as you wouldn't want them looking at you too closely - at least I didn't.
I was panicking when I first started training because I had about six weeks to lose half a stone and fit into a rumba costume, so I really wasn't paying much attention to what Stefan looked like - it was all about the training. Mind you, in the first session I had come straight from a photocall and I had full make-up, including false eyelashes on and was mortified. I didn't want him thinking it was all for him and by the end of the session it had all gone everywhere and I looked ridiculous.
After that I made sure my make-up was really toned down and later on Stefan commented that he preferred me with less of it on. Stefan has also said that there's nothing worse than working with girls who put more make-up on for the gym - as they sweat, it slides off their face, leaving the white lines of their natural skin underneath.
It was a couple of months before we started dating. There were a few flirtatious texts and then we got together at the official opening night of the gym. He asked me to do the unveiling as someone else had let him down at the last minute. We all ended up going into town afterwards and we got together that night.
Neither of us were really sure if we had been imagining something and both of us were nervous about making the first move.
I had dated someone quite recently and decided I wanted to have break from men, so meeting someone was the last thing on my mind. I tend to be on the look-out for models for my books, rather than men!"
Turn heat up on your routine ...
Fancy a flirt? A guide to making eyes at the gym:
Ditch the headphones - no music means you're easy to talk to
Start slow - give the odd small smile and move on to snappy lines. The gym is not the place to start a debate on current affairs
Choose your moment - halfway through a set of pull-ups might not be the best time for a chat, but the queue for the water fountain or loitering in front of the noticeboard are good opportunities
Don't go overboard - a bit of effort in your appearance is a good idea but hairstyles and make-up melting with sweat are not a good look. Neither are those washed-out, baggy jogging bottoms