CLIC Sargent Young Person’s Social Worker Simon Darby set up the ‘MOVE Forward’ group in January 2018 following a successful pilot study, after identifying a lack of teenager and young adult specific exercise programmes in Northern Ireland.
CrossFit is a fitness regimen that involves constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. A typical CrossFit class during the ‘MOVE Forward’ group sessions could see young people completing pull ups, weightlifting, running, rowing and even handstands. By using a variety of high and low skill movements, each exercise can be scaled to suit the individual needs and abilities of each young person.
Research shows that patients who exercise report less fatigue, are hospitalised less frequently, have better outcomes and an improved sense of wellbeing .
After 10 weeks participating in Simon’s programme, 89% of those involved reported an improvement in their fitness. Participants reported that in turn this had a positive impact on their friendships/relationships, mood, energy levels, and ability to deal with stress and anxiety .
Caoimhe Wills, 22, from Belfast, was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when she was 12-years-old, and then relapsed in 2014 aged 18.
During her first treatment, Caoimhe found that she put on weight due to the steroids she had to take, which took her on an unhealthy eating pattern that she struggled to break.
After relapsing in 2014, Caoimhe underwent chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and full body radiation. She found that she frequently suffered from fatigue, infections and sickness which stopped her from exercising.
Simon got in touch with Caoimhe to invite her to take part in his CrossFit exercise programme.
Caoimhe said: “At first I was thinking great, I’m going to be five stone lighter and have abs in about two weeks and it’ll all be wonderful. It obviously wasn’t quite like that, but it’s been great!
“I needed a routine – time to clear my head – and specifically to be in a non-judgmental environment where no one would be bothered about what I was doing. I get really bored by the gym but the CrossFit programme is so varied. You’re trying to improve your time each session so the only person you’re racing against is yourself.
“It really helps to give you something else to focus on that isn’t just what you’ve been through with your cancer diagnosis. It’s also really nice to meet more young people who actually understand what you’ve been through and be able to talk about similar experiences.”
Chloe Allen, 20, from Ballymoney, County Antrim, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 16-years-old in 2014.
Her diagnosis came about after she began suffering from back pain which she put down to rowing. A seemingly routine MRI revealed a mass tissue in her neck and after further tests she was told it was cancer.
Chloe underwent surgery, followed by radioactive iodine treatment, after which she had to go into isolation for a few days.
After meeting Simon at a photography night organised for young people, she decided to try his CrossFit programme.
Chloe said: “I hadn’t really exercised since rowing, which was before the diagnosis, so I thought I’d be really bad. It turned out to be a good way of getting fit and meeting other people.
“It was fun and inclusive. Simon would take us through the movements and then it was about improving the time it took you or how many rounds you could do in a set time. You’re not competing so you can just enjoy it and work on your fitness.
“I’ve made some new friends and we have good craic together. There are a couple of girls who I see outside of the sessions now which is great.”
Simon Darby, CLIC Sargent’s Young Person’s Social Worker, said:
“It's such an honour for the MOVE Forward programme to be shortlisted as a finalist in the Excellence in Rehabilitation category. I see this as recognition of the young people for all their hard work and belief that CrossFit would help them become fitter and healthier after cancer treatment.
“Exercise programmes like this are so important to cancer survivorship. They bring routine, goal setting, structure, fun, hard work, comradery and rewards.
“Through the support of Reebok CrossFit Northern Ireland we have been able to bring young people together with a shared goal and help them to move forward into their survivorship from cancer with greater confidence.”