If you’ve ever watched Ireland’s Fittest Family and thought, ‘we could do that’ you might just be right. That’s exactly what the Kinsella family, Patrick, Michael, David and Caoimhe, from Marshalstown, outside Enniscorthy, thought as they watched every season of the hugely popular RTÉ show. This year they took the leap and applied. Following a gruelling competition, they were crowned Ireland’s Fittest Family 2021.
Brothers Michael and David are at home in Wexford talking to me on a stormy December night and they’re delighted to be finally able to chat about their victory.
“You wouldn’t realise how many people watch the show but every time you’re walking somewhere you’re stopped about it. I’m teaching at the moment and so every day, I’m going into school and the kids are like, “Oh, we saw you on TV last night’. It’s a way of creating conversation as well, everyone wants to talk to you about it,” says Michael.
“It’s a bit weird looking at yourself on the TV, we’ve watched for the last few years and all the contestants are normally strangers to you, but there we are on the TV.”
Watching the show as a family was a big reason they applied to be on it, their beloved granny died this year and she loved watching it too, David says that “she’d be very proud of them all” and that they were “doing it for her”.
Though they’re all involved in sport in one way or another, training for the show was on a new level for the Kinsella family, and it started early. As soon as dad Patrick knew that applications were open, he had the four of them on a training plan.
Michael laughs as he remembers his dad’s enthusiasm for training for a show they had yet to enter.
“Daddy had an obsession with watching the show while it was on. He was trying to pick out events that would come up this year and he was certain Back Against the Wall would be one of them, so he made us start training for it. David and I were telling him he was silly, that it wouldn’t come up again even if we got on the show. But he got us trained for it eventually, and it turned out pretty well in the end. We got a really good time on it.”
Michael is far too modest – his performance on that event broke all the records and his 22 minutes against the wall got a lot of people talking about the family as potential winners.
Taking part in Fittest Family was more challenging than either Michael or David anticipated. Events that looked relatively straightforward when watched at home turned out to be incredibly challenging in real life. Add in filming, Covid restrictions, and all the waiting around that goes hand in hand with making a TV show, and it’s no surprise to hear the Kinsellas found it harder than expected.
“I remember watching one event last year and thinking it was the easiest thing, but as we went to do it, it’s just a different ballgame altogether – it was one of the most gruelling things we’ve ever done in our life,” says Michael.
Family members surprised each other
Having your family by your side means you have great support, but it can also add to the pressure in a competition.
“We’re always close and always trained together a bit but everyone has different ideas and that’s normal. Someone might be pushing for something during the training and they’re not happy but then after that, it’s grand and everyone’s back to normal.”
Seeing his family take on something so intense meant there were some surprises during the competition and Michael remembers being incredibly impressed during filming.
I think everyone was surprised by everyone else. I mean, even watching daddy, we always knew that he was strong but the pure grit of him was amazing.
“The determination of each and every one of us really shone through and when it came to grinding out, we were all there.”
That includes sister Caoimhe, who was just 15 years old when they were filming the show. She might be the smallest and youngest Kinsella, but she is certainly not a lightweight. Caoimhe boxes with St Anthony’s and St Patrick’s Boxing Club in Enniscorthy and won gold at the European Schoolgirls Championship in Tbilisi in 2019.
Michael gets a kick out of anyone underestimating his sister.
“She’s not European champion for nothing,” he says proudly. “A lot of people saw her going into the competition as a small, skinny girl and really looking at Caoimhe as a weakness, but when it came doing the challenges, she was as good as anyone.”
When I suggest that she doesn’t need two big brothers to fight for her, Michael laughs, saying: “She’s well able to fight for herself”.
Apart from the help of the celebrity coaches, training is left up to the families. The Kinsellas say that a lot of credit has to go to Nolan Health and Fitness in Enniscorthy, where family friend Sean helped to put a training plan in place.
“I’d say that Sean was major in our success,” Michael says. “He’s a good friend of daddy’s and the main man in there. We were in there training two or nights a week and he was always communicating with daddy and the two of them were coming up with ways of working so we’d be stronger and better for particular events. He helped us massively through the whole thing.”
Coach played a huge part in the final
The Kinsellas had Anna Geary as their coach and Michael says she was on WhatsApp to Patrick the whole time, offering advice and training tips.
“Anna is a very sound woman. All the coaches were. They were always quick to come over and give you a tip and talk you through an event. Anna played a huge part in the final when Caoimhe and daddy both lost their runners coming up to the ramp and they only had socks on, we were like, ‘Oh God, how are they going to get up’.