Colin White speaks with author, speaker and health and wellness coach Pat Divilly, the recent winner of the David Manley Award 2015.
Pat Divilly has fast become one of Ireland’s leading authorities on health and wellness. The Galway native is making waves with his customer-focused approach to fitness training which is proving hugely popular with clients.
Divilly admits to an early interest in nutrition and strength training. “I distinctly remember leaving the gym after my first session aged 14 promising myself that one day I’d be a trainer with a gym of my own,” he says.
This desire came to fruition when Pat Divilly Fitness was set up in 2012. The focus of the company is to show people that they can look and feel great by eating the right food and by getting back to basics with a training schedule they can enjoy. Divilly also places a large focus on the mental side of fitness with an importance on “goal setting and mindfulness”.
When asked about how his style of fitness differs from the style associated with most commercial gyms, Divilly points to a personal connection he and his staff strive to create.
“I try to focus on community, on mindset and on support. In most commercial gyms you could spend a year training next to the same people week-in, week-out and not get to know anyone. When you come to my gym, everyone knows your name and greets you warmly,” states Divilly. “I try to encourage the clients to get focused on where they are trying to go in all areas of their lives – something I think is often bypassed in ‘normal’ gyms.”
… Divilly also has plans to make the move into television and hopes to have his own TV series before the end of year, as well as expansion into the UK.”
Summers spent in California amplified Divilly’s passion for health and fitness; a time the then teenager enjoyed.
“I didn’t have any money but it was an amazing experience and I met some of my heroes at the time. It reignited my passion for fitness and as soon as I got home for the final year of my arts degree I pursued a diploma in personal training.”
Upon his return to Ireland, he quickly went about becoming certified as a personal trainer and began working with friends and family. Recognising the need to up-skill, he then moved to England to complete a full-time Master’s in Exercise and Nutrition Science at the University of Chester.
“England was a great experience. During my time in Chester I also worked full-time in the University’s gym with a range of clients, from cardiac rehabilitation patients to scholarship athletes,” says Divilly.
Going gets tough
After completing the master’s, Divilly once again moved home to Ireland with a renewed sense of optimism and vigour.
“I dedicated every waking minute to getting better. I read books on nutrition and health, attended seminars, wrote articles, trained clients for free and told anyone who would listen about my new business,” he says.
Within six months, 100 clients were training with Divilly on the beach; his confidence growing everyday as he continued to work hard on building the business.
Setting up the business – his first – at the tender age of 22 in Dublin was a tough experience for Divilly; an experience which, in his own words, he “failed miserably” at.
“I only knew a handful of people; I felt like a very small fish in a big pond. I worked in a clothes shop to subsidise the money I was earning from classes, but still struggled to get by,” he recalls.
“In retrospect, I think the biggest issue was I didn’t have clarity on where I was trying to go and I had no game plan. I was just going from class to class hoping some magic was going to happen and I was going to wake up with a big successful business.”
Pat on the back
Since its inception, the David Manley Awards has provided over €1m in support to some of Ireland’s most innovative companies and organisations. Each year a panel sifts through the long list of applicants, and awards one overall winner with a €10,000 cash prize, with three runner-up prizes of €1,000 each also being awarded.
In addition to financial support, over €100,000 is awarded in mentoring and support from partners of the awards. A series of dedicated support workshops are provided to winners, offering cutting-edge online marketing advice, an audit of their business strategy, and industry specific financial and legal advice.
The notoriety – and financial benefit – that goes along with a David Manley Award is not lost on Divilly.
“It’s a massive boost in confidence. When I was announced as one of the nine finalists I really didn’t expect to go any further than that. I think anyone who owns a business knows the ups and downs you go through, so to be acknowledged for what you are doing is such a welcome lift,” he declares.
When quizzed about the possibility of working with companies of the calibre of the awards’ partners, Divilly is excited about the prospect and potential opportunities.
“There is no doubt I can learn so much in working with these companies. Less than three years ago I was a part-time waiter who started a small fitness class, not knowing what to expect, and now I’m consulting with big companies, getting incredible support.”
Divilly has experienced many highlights as well as his fair share of disappointment during his relatively short time in business. A particularly noteworthy moment came when Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook spoke about him during a conference in California. “That was a bit surreal! They spoke about how I’d started with five clients in Galway and grew that number to hundreds from all over the world in a short time. To be acknowledged by such powerhouses was a real vote of confidence.”
Divilly has also forged a successful career in publishing. Following the success of his first book, 21 Day Jump Start, Naked Paleo – Food Stripped, a gluten and dairy-free cookbook was released in 2014. His third book, a psychology-style book on moving toward goals in all areas, is due for release this year.
One tough mudder
In addition to his business commitments Divilly is proud to be involved with Cystic Fibrosis Ireland as an ambassador – a role he takes very seriously. “I knew nothing about the condition when I was first approached by Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, but I was humbled to be asked. I attended their national conference as a guest and left the room promising myself that 12 months down the line at the next conference I’d be proud of the job I’d done.”
That sparked Divilly’s idea of trying to bring a team of over 500 people to Tough Mudder, a 22km adventure race, which ultimately raised €165,000 for the charity. Throughout 2015 Divilly will also be working with Console, the national suicide charity and free professional counselling service.
Going for gold
As if all this wasn’t enough, Divilly also has plans to make the move into television and hopes to have his own TV series before the end of year, as well as expansion into the UK.
“At the moment around 800 people participate in our online courses each month. Most of those individuals are located in Ireland, but I see no reason why we can’t expand to the UK and really grow the brand over there.” Given his track record, its only a matter of time before this expansion across the water becomes reality.
Having the necessary motivation to succeed in business has never been an issue for Divilly and he admits to being obsessive about having a crystal clear vision in all areas of his life.
“I think it’s important that you know the reason you do what you do. For me, I clearly remember Christmas 2011 when I couldn’t afford presents for my family, and that really rattled me. If I ever need to be motivated I bring myself back to that pain. I’m also motivated by knowing the impact our work can have on people’s health, both positive and mental.”
“My dad always told me that if you are good to people, keep your head down and work hard, you’ll get to where you want to be,” and this simple strategy has stood to the young entrepreneur.
From his local beach and an internet connection being his only resources, Divilly has grown the business and built up a large online following through social media, whilst keeping a small team and overheads very low.
The future for Pat Divilly looks very bright; and indeed as Divilly’s mantra states, ‘Anything is possible’.