Donegal Woman talked to mother Maria Ryan to see what life has been like since her family entered Ireland's Fittest Family, and how being the mum of such an active family involves a lot of taxiing... and a lot of laundry.
The final episode of Ireland’s Fittest Family is fast approaching and all of Donegal will be tuning in to support the Ryans. The Kilmacrennan family have battled it out through seven rounds of gruelling challenges and have managed to race, crawl and leap their way into the final for the chance to win the €15,000 prize.
We’ve been on tenterhooks watching Danny Ryan (48), and his eldest children Alanna (16), Jordan (17), and Keane (22) being pushed mentally and physically to their limits. Former boxing champion Danny leads the clan through the battles, but there’s a lady off camera who has done just as much to raise the winning team.
It was actually mother Maria who entered her family into the competition after spotting her eldest Keane tag his dad in a Facebook post. “I saw the article calling out for people to enter, so I entered them and didn’t tell them! Then they were invited to Athlone for a fitness test. Fifty-five families were tested over two days, and the 12 were chosen for the show that weekend.”
Each challenge took the Ryan team to a different place around Ireland. Maria was able to go along to the last three as the numbers of people on the sets narrowed down.
“I would never have felt scared watching them do the challenges. I just wanted them to do well. The atmosphere in the car was brilliant coming home from the events, and we were just so happy to get to the next round each week.”
Between mud runs, bog swims and Hanging Tough challenges over water, the tasks were messy affairs. The red Ryan uniform was often invisible beneath muck at the end of the episodes. Of course, it’s the mammy that has to do the washing!
“I’m sick of the washing! After the events and when they were out training I’d be handed the black bags at the end of the day. There have been a lot of hot washes!”
The location of each challenge would be kept secret until a few days before recording, so the Ryans had to be trained to tackle anything. “We spent a lot of time during the summer practicing for events and always trying to think about what could come up.”
The Ryans’ idea of a family activity definitely wouldn’t be the norm in many Donegal houses: “Danny had a balancing beam built outside the house, and we had an adventure wall built. One day he had them all out pulling a van around the house!”
Maria is just as into fitness as the rest of the brood. “Horse riding and snorkeling are my things. I go horse-riding with my friends a couple of times a week, and myself and Danny would often go cycling through Glenveagh.”
“We’ve always been an active family. We were never ones to be sitting around watching tv. Danny has always been a great role model for them. Sports has always been his life. He never drank or smoke and exercise was something that he always had to be doing.”
All of the Ryans have their own niche sports and strengths, which makes them such a strong team. The younger kids, Odhran (9) and Katy (7) have their own fitness interests too, namely football, athletics and gymnastics.
Between training, school and classes, Maria is the family taxi driver. “I am the taxi. It’s so busy running them all to training, school and classes. It’s been busy even before they were entered into Ireland’s Fittest Family. Every evening someone needs to go somewhere. We have a good background of friends and family around us who help out with sharing lifts too.”
“My time is when the kids are at school. I like to look after my chickens and two dogs and I always use my time to do something active.”
Seeing her family reach the final of the show makes Maria a very proud Mammy. “Every time I turn on the TV now I see the advert for the final. It’s hard to believe that that’s my family. I’m just so proud.”
“No matter what the result, to get to the final it’s amazing and there are so many strong families taking part.”
The competition takes a lot of emotional strength to push through the rounds. Maria was always there to support her kids. “The tensions would have been high when we’re at the events, there wouldn’t be a lot said between the rounds. I was just there for them if they wanted to talk.”
There was always high drama during the eliminator rounds, but Maria says they brought out the best in her family. “My crowd love the eliminators. The adrenaline’s going and they really thrive in them.”
“The whole competition brought great memories for us as a family, We got to spend a lot of time together that we normally wouldn’t have done. We were all piled into the one hotel room at night and the craic was good.Keane would always say it brought us closer together as a family.”
Team Ryan have become local celebrities since the competition came to our screens. “I want to thank all our family and friends for the support they gave us from day one. We’ve had so many kind wishes and messages, even from people we don’t even know on social media. I also want to thank my mother-in-law for looking after Odhran and Katy on the nights we were away every weekend.”
This weekend, the Ryans will be gathering with family and friends in a local hotel to watch the final. The result is a closely guarded secret, but the family are making the most of their achievements and are inspiring others to get fit. They have been invited to functions and schools, and will start the New Year leading the Atlantic Drive Walk/Run.
Good luck Team Ryan!