Everyone has the potential for change.  This was the lesson learned by people from all over Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula who took part in a Couch to 5K programme run by the local family centre, Spraoi agus Spórt.

“We’d heard a lot about these programmes and because there was a growing interest in fitness in our community, we thought it would be great to organise one here,” says Helen Nolan from Spraoi agus Spórt.  “We were lucky to be chosen as recipients of the Coca-Cola Thank You Fund, which allowed us to run ten weeks of training sessions throughout the peninsula.”

Two hundred and ninety people enrolled in these sessions and on the 26th of June, they all took part in a 5K run in Carndonagh.

“I remember standing at the starting line that day and how amazing it was to see so many people there,” says Helen.  “It was the Coca-Cola Thank You Fund that made it happen, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Katie McLaughlin was one of those on the starting line.  “I’m a 50 year old who was so unfit I couldn’t run 50 yards without stopping,” she says.  “A lot of running programmes were too tough for me but this one allowed me to start at the very beginning.  I was so proud when I completed it – fitter, healthier and more confident.”

Katie wasn’t the only one who was out of shape at the beginning of the training sessions.  Patricia McCarron was too.  “I went from not being able to run for three minutes during the first session to completing 25 minutes at the end of training,” she says.  “I felt so good in myself.”

Improving her fitness wasn’t all she gained from the experience.  She also got to know some new people.  “I really enjoyed that,” she says.  “There were loads of laughs.”

Others enjoyed the social aspect too.  Nicola McColgan made lasting friendships at the training sessions.  “I met three new people and now we’re great friends,” she says.

For some, it was the supportive nature of the programme that made it special.  “It was for all ages and abilities,” says Rosaleen Sweeney.  “I ran the 5K with my daughter-in-law and grandchild and we’d never have done it without the help of the coaches and organisers.”

Katie McDonald couldn’t agree more.  “The coaches motivated us right through the programme,” she says.  “They helped me achieve something I never thought I could do.”

Deirdre McDermott was so motivated that she never missed a night’s training.  “Not once,” she laughs.  “It was such a fantastic opportunity for us all to raise our fitness levels.”

Judy Colhoun believes the training helped her manage her mental health.  “I experience recurring episodes of depression and physical activity is known to be effective as part of the treatment,” she says.  “But the illness takes away your motivation and often getting up from the sofa is the hardest thing.  The structured programme and being with a group helped me overcome my lack of motivation.”

While medication and therapy have helped Judy, she found the training played its part too.  “It gave me more than physical activity,” she says.  “It gave me a connection to my community and a sense of achievement.  It really boosted my self-esteem.”

Breedge Doherty is still amazed at the impact the training programme had.  “With its confidence building and the social element, it was a life-changing programme for all involved,” she says.  “It’s fantastic it happened in a rural community like ours.”

Helen Nolan and the team at Spraoi agus Spórt were thrilled with the programme’s success.  “Inishowen is a beautiful place to live but it has its challenges like many rural areas with high unemployment and emigration,” she says.  “Programmes like this bring people together and remind us what’s good about living here.”

This article was commissioned via NewsCred's NewsRoom and written by freelance contributor Sharon Ní Chonchúir.