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How Northern Ireland man Shane Feeney found salvation in the gym after brother's death

Shane Feeney (28) from Londonderry suffered the devastating loss of his teenage brother and his dad within three years, and then he was faced with his own health battle. He tells Leona O'Neill how he coped and that he is now helping others achieve their goals

Staying strong: Shane Feeney
Staying strong: Shane Feeney
Josh Feeney
Amazing transformation: Shane before losing two stone thanks to his work in the gym
Amazing transformation: Shane after losing two stone thanks to his work in the gym

A Londonderry man who lost his brother and his father within three years channelled his grief into getting fit, which in turn helped him battle a muscle-wasting disease that could have left him in a wheelchair.

Twenty-eight-year-old Shane Feeney, who works in the support sector, was left devastated by the sudden death of his teenage brother, Josh, in 2013.

In the midst of his grief, he took inspiration from his sibling, who had been a kickboxer, and joined his local gym, losing himself in the sports equipment for hours and shedding the two stone he put on at university.

Fitness was his "salvation" and the gym was the place he went to escape when his father died just three years later.

"My brother died suddenly in 2013 - he was 19," Shane says. "Then my daddy, Damien, died of cancer in 2016.

"I used my grief and channelled that energy in the gym to better myself. I tried to use the energy in a positive way, instead of negatively.

"Going to the gym was my means of escape. Some people turn to drink or drugs as a crutch. I found fitness helped me. It was my salvation and it still is to this day.

"When I came out of the gym, I found that I felt 100 times better. It was like a form of meditation. There was an element of an escape, but I also wanted to better myself. My losses fuelled my hunger for achievement and pushed me further to channel my energy correctly.

"Fitness became my place of downtime and escape. I set myself no limits - I just got the job done.

"It was all about mind over matter. I knew the body transformation would only take me a certain number of weeks.

"There is no better, more uplifting feeling than any form of exercise - it releases endorphins, which help the chemical balance in our brains if we're feeling down in any way."

After embarking on his training regime, Shane noticed weakness in his legs and lower body.

Visits to the doctor led to hospital consultations, and it was discovered that the young man had a form of muscle-wasting disease, something that without having a high level of fitness could have left him unable to live a normal functional lifestyle, which in turn could have halted his fitness journey.

"I was being seen by a neurologist in the hospital for the past three years," he says. "It affected my power and my strength.

"The main problem was I had poor muscle development below my knees and there was a possibility of that getting worse. Luckily, I have reversed the condition through fitness.

"I had gone to the doctor about weakness in my lower body. I was finding it hard to do things that the average person could do while growing up.

"It's all to do with the nerves - because the legs are the furthest away from the brain, this caused the issues.

"My upper body was well-developed compared to my lower body because of the disorder.

"That's why I have continued to focus on my lower-body strength development, which I feel has transformed my lifestyle.

"It wasn't really a shock when the doctor mentioned symptoms of distal myopathy. I had researched everything and knew everything, and I was so in tune with my body. I just wanted treatment - that was my main goal.

"It has been a long road and I still haven't got a firm, concrete diagnosis after three years, so all I could do was to try and strengthen my body.

"If I hadn't started going to the gym and working on myself, it's hard to say where I'd be.

"The condition could have been much worse. I could have been left with mobility issues and I could have been in a wheelchair.

"It's funny how things fall into place and how I started the gym after Josh died and then used it to combat my muscle condition. I sometimes find white feathers, and when anything good happens in my life, I always think it's something to do with those looking down on me.

"I think it might have been Josh who guided me to the gym. He was a kickboxer. If he had been here still, we would have been training together.

"I feel close to Josh in the gym. Going there is my way of dealing with things. I can go and just be by myself, be in tune with myself. I just put my headphones on and away I go."

In the years ahead, Shane may put his fitness on show in a physique competition, but for now he is concentrating on helping other people reach their personal goals and become resilient through training.

"Words can't describe how much my life has changed because of my fitness," he says. "It has changed so much by being a more confident, driven and productive individual.

"I wasn't happy with my physique. If I hadn't developed a stronger, more resilient mindset through my fitness journey, I don't know where I'd be.

"Getting and staying fit has changed my life.

"The skills I have developed in fitness I have applied to my personal life.

"Now, I see every challenge as an opportunity, whereas before I wouldn't have had the mindset to take challenges on and step outside my comfort zone.

"Now, I am the kind of person who is always improving themselves through fitness, as opposed to being someone who found it hard to motivate themselves.

"I have also set up my own personal gym at my home, where I help and advise others on achieving their fitness goals and making lifestyle changes.

"I help people to feel comfortable in their clothes again and I empower them to make lifestyle changes and motivate them, pushing them on to reach their fitness, restore confidence and feel comfortable in their clothes again."

Shane, who has a girlfriend, Shauneen, has these words of encouragement for others embarking on their own fitness journey, for whatever reason.

"If I could inspire other people to get fit, I would encourage them to start now rather than later," he says. "I would urge them not to set unrealistic goals in a short space of time and avoid people selling supplements that promise rapid weight loss. I would advise people to go at their own pace - progress is progress. When they start seeing results, it will become really addictive.

"I would encourage people to get in touch with someone who can advise them on the best way to start their fitness journey. It will save them a lot of time. You will be surprised at the limits you can push your body to.

"Most importantly, don't compare your own results to others. We are all different, with different genetics. Instagram and other social media platforms are causing people to feel pressurised to be and look a certain way.

"I find this very concerning, and I have been there comparing myself, but I now have got out of that mindset and accepted my body type."

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