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St Gabriel’s still taking the strain after 60+ years

St Gabriel's weightlifting Club, Ronnie Whiteway with Seamus Kelly St Gabriel's weightlifting Club, Ronnie Whiteway with Seamus Kelly
By Conor McParland

FOUNDED in 1955, St Gabriel’s Weightlifting Club in Ardoyne continues to go from strength to strength – quite literally.
The club was started by Tommy McAfee, an ex-army physical training instructor from the Second World War who had an interest in weights.
Unique in name, the club still carries the title St Gabriel’s which is rare in itself these days, but the club has a long and proud history.
One man who has become the stalwart of the club is 76-year-old coach, Ronnie Whiteway, who still provides his expertise in the sport even today.
“The club started in an old wooden hut in the bottom of Butler Street,” he said. “We have had to move a few times due to redevelopment in Ardoyne. We are the second oldest club in Ardoyne after the GAA. We are also the only club to still carry the name St Gabriel’s, so we’re quite unique in that way.
“I have been coaching for 42 years and I am qualified through British Weightlifting and Weightlifting Ireland. I am also a qualified international Category One official and have officiated at eight major tournaments across the world.
“Outside of family, this is my main interest. My wife and family are very understanding of the love I have for weightlifting.”
The club is now situated in the old St Gemma’s School building in Ardilea Street and boasts a spacious room that’s perfect for their sessions.
Ronnie admits weightlifting is a “minority” sport compared to others, but despite being small in stature, the club has enjoyed an illustrious history.
“We have had great success over the years. Past members have represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games and Ireland at the European Championships.
“Currently we have Donal McLaughlin, who is just 18 years old. He is the highest ranking junior in Britain and Ireland and will represent Ireland in the European Championships next month.
“Weightlifting is classed as a minority sport. You never get too many people doing it because it is a very technically difficult sport.
“It takes quite a few months to get the basics but if you get it, you won’t forget it and it will be with you for life. It is like any sport – you have to want to do it and be dedicated.
“I believe the benefits of weightlifting are misunder-stood. People relate it to body-building but it is a completely different thing altogether. Weighlifting is about learning how to do Olympic lifts. You have to be mobile and flexible. You will also develop strength and fitness.”
The club currently has 12 members and Ronnie has extended an invite to anyone in the community who’d like to get involved – or just find our more – to drop by and say hello.
“Weightlifting in North Belfast has been popular since 1955 even though it is a minority sport and long may it continue,” he added.
“If you feel like you want to try it, come along and give it a go. The door is always open. I am available to be contacted seven days a week.
“I put all new people through a functional assessment. It basically involves a light bar which you lift over the head and squat down holding the bar over your head.
“I can also give further exercises to improve mobility and flexibility so that people can master the basics of weightlifting.
“It ebbs and flows with members. We have 12 members at the moment which is enough to cover our outgoings.
“We do need more members. We have limited means in terms of funding and it is more important with rising rent costs.
“People know the good reputation of the club. Politics and religion is completely left at the door. In the club, the sole focus is weightlifting.
“We welcome members from all over the city and from across the divide. Members wear neutral colours which is our one important rule of the club.”

If you’d like to get involved in St Gabriel’s Weightlifting Club, of if you’d like more info. contact Ronnie Whiteway on 077104173180 or visit the club’s Facebook page.

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