A SKIBBEREEN man who was addicted to drink, drugs and gambling has turned his life around to become a world fitness champion.
Alastair Harte, 37, who is opening his new gym in his home town this weekend, says if he can come back from the brink, than anyone can, and that’s why he’s sharing his story.
Alastair, who grew up in Lough Hyne, was expelled from school aged 15.
‘The traditional educational system just didn’t gel with me,’ he said.
What followed was three years of drug use – mainly recreational and mostly ecstasy and some cocaine. However its hold over his life was strengthening and thanks to the intervention of his parents, he sought treatment in the city’s Arbour House.
‘I would have started taking drugs for one night at the weekend, than for the whole weekend and then it escalated to four days a week. It was mainly recreational but it was starting to get worse.
‘Over two years I availed of counselling on a day admission and I came out the other side,’ he said.
Alastair returned to work with his father at his motor factors business in Clonakilty and led a solitary life, immersing himself in cars.
‘I avoided all my old haunts, and made a clean break with my past. Then when I was aged 21 or 22 I started going out again. I had no interest in drugs at this stage and while I never drank during my teens I started to at this point. It was something that was acceptable and wasn’t frowned upon,’ he said. But with his highly additive personality, disorder quickly returned to his life.
‘I started going out and drinking for one night, then it was a whole weekend and then at my worst I’d go missing for a week. When you’re living that kind of lifestyle there are always people to go out with,’ he remembers.
He does describe himself as a recovered alcoholic but says he wouldn’t have had a drink every day, never drank at home and he drank only beer.
‘For me it was part of an overall feeling and not just the drinking, it was also about the socialising.’
At the same time, he developed a gambling problem.
‘The two addictions go hand in hand. When you’re in a pub all day drinking and spending money, you have to try and get something in. That was one of my worst addictions as it is so easily hidden.’
At its peak he lost up to €1,000 in a single bet.
‘Over six months I’d easily have lost €10,000 and upwards,’ he said adding that he only ever bothered with greyhound races as they gave an immediate hit as they were over in 30 to 40 seconds.
Then on December 13th 2009, Alastair, who was married (he’s now divorced) with two sons , had his ‘light bulb moment.’
‘I had been out all night and remember knocking on the door of an early house in West Cork at 9am on a Sunday. I was sitting at the bar and had only taken a few sips from my pint, the sun was beating on my back and I just asked myself “what are you doing?”’
It was as if a switch had been flicked. Two days later, Alastair had joined the Clonakilty rugby club gym and successfully went cold turkey on his alcohol and gambling addictions.
He clearly recognised he was getting addicted to the gym but didn’t mind as he said it bettered him.
He fell in love with weight training and said as time went by the motor trade seemed less appealing and fitness was starting to be a much more attractive option.
‘I decided to do a personal training course and once qualified started to help people with weight loss, or with people looking to tone up and add muscle and before long built up a client base of my own.’
He went on to open his own gym, Body Image Health and Fitness in Lisavaird and this Saturday opens his second gym in Carbery Enterprise Park, Skibbereen.
As well as developing his business, he has been developing his career as a fitness model.
Just last month he won three world titles at the Pure Elite world championships in the UK where he competed against people from 29 countries. He was also awarded International male model of the year for 2018 at the competition.
‘Fitness modelling,’ he explains, ‘is similar to body building but is based on the all over look, from head to toe. It’s based entirely on aesthetics.’
His wins were the culmination of an intensive regime which last year saw him have sweet potato, chicken and broccoli for his Christmas day dinner which he ate in the gym.
That was part of his preparation for a major UK competition in April where he took first place.
He has also just signed a five year franchise to bring Pure Elite to Ireland and next September will host the country’s first fitness modeling event in the Helix, Dublin. Interest is pouring in already from all over the world he said.
Despite his own intense training he says everyone is welcome in his gyms where his members include a competing strong man weighing 150kg to middle aged women who want to keep fit, to teens.
Alastair’s hopes are that by sharing his story it ‘may help someone else turn their lives around and show people it’s never too late to follow your dreams.’
This Christmas day he’ll open both his gyms where he’ll be collecting for Lisheens House and where he’ll eat his dinner.
‘It will be the same as last year, but I might swap the chicken for turkey!’ he said.