Ex-Irish League footballer 'fittest I've been' as he hails latest fitness craze

Photo shows Former Irish League striker Vincent Sweeney
-Credit: (Image: Vincent Sweeney)

Former Irish League striker Vincent Sweeney says he is the "fittest I've ever been" after competing at the Hyrox World Championships in France.

The 43-year-old claimed a top 15 finish in his age category (40-44) as he took on a stellar field of high-class athletes at Nice's Palais des Expositions.

Sweeney - who played for clubs including Cliftonville and Ballymena United - is a massive fan of Hyrox, which combines both running and functional workout stations.

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It is an indoor hybrid fitness event which involves participants running 1km followed by a functional workout, and repeated eight times.

"I went to Dublin last year to compete and then I travelled to Dubai and qualified second in my age group. And then I qualified for the World Championships last month," Sweeney said.

"I was top 10 in Ireland for my age group, and top 15 at the Worlds in the 40-44 age category. It was a brilliant experience.

Photo shows Vincent Sweeney pictured at the Hyrox World Championships
Vincent Sweeney pictured at the Hyrox World Championships -Credit:Vincent Sweeney

"I am fitter now than I have ever been in my life. I have more strength and conditioning, and knowledge. You can reach phenomenal levels if you put your mind to it, and you have the right knowledge and guidance. And that's where I like to help people.

"Knowledge is power, and I just wish I had this knowledge when I was playing football. As you get older nutrition is important, and sleep is number one. People don't realise the importance of sleep.

"I spoke to athletes at the World Championships who hailed from America, South Africa, Japan, and learned off all of them. It was great competing against and also learning off these athletes.

"Hyrox shows you how much of an athlete you can be in your mid-thirties, and older. Fitness is a lifestyle, and Hyrox is for everyone. I have two clients who train with me and they do it in wheelchairs. So it isn't all about elite athletes and World level."

Sweeney added: "What I noticed was there are a lot of former athletes who have lost their way, physically and mentally. That's why there is such a big market for Hyrox, for sportspeople who have retired and lost their way. Irish League players included.

"I was injured when I was 26 or 27 with my ACL. I always found a way of gym, but Hyrox is more than that. It is overall physical fitness as it includes a lot of running and cardiovascular activity. So it is all-round fitness for athletes.

Photo shows Vincent Sweeney
Sweeney says he "loves" everything about Hyrox -Credit:Vincent Sweeney

"You can still be a good athlete when you retire from playing sport. And many athletes still have that competitive mentality after they have retired. I spoke to a lot of rugby players, runners, triathletes and more who are doing Hyrox. It has kept them going.

"Some even said it has saved their life. That made me think, especially with men and their mental health over 30. That's why I am keen to spread the message.

"We all know what exercise does for your health. One thing we say in the gym is everything feels better when you sweat for it. And anyone can do Hyrox. Most people can run and do the exercises. And there are different competition categories, and age groups as well.

"It is phenomenal."

Sweeney runs his own gym in Derry and is no stranger to physical challenges. Back in 2020 he ran the equivalent of four marathons in a 24-hour period to raise money for mental health charities.

He is now investing his energy and focus into Hyrox, and has even organised a massive competition for his native Derry on August 3.

The Maiden City Hyrox will take place at Sean Dolans GAC and has attracted a sold-out entry of 250 athletes from across the world.

"We are doing one in Derry on August 3 at Sean Dolans. It is a new top of the range facility," he added.

"We are charging half price for our event so people can afford it, and we have 250 people competing. We only advertised it for a couple of weeks before it sold out. And it's people coming from all over the world.

"This is bringing people into Derry and I want to promote the city. The games can be a focal point for Derry. We want to bring as many people together as possible, from anywhere and everywhere.

"There is one thing about sport and exercise, it brings everyone together. It is team bonding.

"Sport is brilliant, and Hyrox sport is brilliant. The bonding and networking is unbelievable.

"And I have managed to reach the World Championships and competed in Dubai and Malaga. I have flown all over the world to do it.

The Maiden City Hyrox will be held at Sean Dolans GAC
The Maiden City Hyrox will be held at Sean Dolans GAC

"It has blown up these past two or three years, more than I thought it would. It is so popular and the demand is massive.

"I am also bringing the World Elite Champion Alexander Roncevic over on September 21-22 and I will take him around the north coast and Donegal and show him the sights. We will have workshops about how to reach that level.

"The Worlds were one of the best sporting events I have ever witnessed. It was superb. These are ordinary people with jobs, and they are competing at such a high level.

"People are getting better and improving. And I love that.

"I don't see Hyrox going away any time soon."

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