27 Sept 2022

Sarah opens a new studio and a new way of life

Turning challenges into a way of life has forged an exciting new career for Sarah Gillespie

Sarah opens a new studio and a new way of life

Studio S: Sarah Gillespie at her new fitness studio called Studio S in Drumrooske, Donegal Town

This Saturday will see the official launch of Sarah Gillespie's new fitness studio called Studio S in Drumrooske, Donegal Town.

The new venue will host three separate dance floors, a kitchen area, and three office spaces and as the first dance and fitness studio of its scale to open in the town, she hopes it will offer a fun-filled atmosphere for adults and children to fall in love with fitness and dance.

This opening marks the success of Sarah’s two businesses, RINKA Kids Fitness and Scoil Rince Tir Chonaill but all this didn't happen by chance. This determined young lady overcame many challenges and adversity to now enjoy this level of success.

“As a child, I was given a young diagnosis of asthma and at the time the doctor’s advice to my mother was to get me involved in the exercise to help keep my lungs healthy. I was taken to my first dance class, and I was hooked.

“I would say I knew from a young age that I always wanted to teach dance and had such a love for it – the stage, the friendships, the physical challenges that it brought. I have three sisters and all four of us danced so I even loved the connection it gave us. Everything about dance seemed special.”

However, it was when Sarah was in her early 20’s that her path began to take shape and a career began to form in her mind.

“I was still a competitive Irish dancer and my interest in health and fitness had peaked. I decided to train as a personal trainer and a sports therapist, and my plan was to teach dance and work with dance injuries. I wanted to help competitive dancers become the best, the strongest, and the healthiest versions of themselves that they could be.

“But it appeared that fate had another idea. In January 2010, just a few months out from finishing my sports therapy exams and dancing in my last World Championship, I was involved in a serious car accident that threw my whole life up in the air.

“The next two years involved nine surgeries and the power to my right arm was seriously impaired. I was left with pins and plates throughout my body and my days as a dancer, and my career in fitness appeared to be over.”

At the time, a physically active life in any sense seemed impossible and so she decided to return to college.

“I graduated from NUI Maynooth with a first-class honours degree in business management. My first job after graduating was as an assistant manager in a gym. Prayers seemed answered. I was back in the fitness scene.”

Little did she know at the time that this step would be the beginning of what we now know as RINKA.

“It was as if every client I worked with in the gym had the same message – if only I had loved sport as a child if only I hadn’t given up when I was young if only I had been more confident in sport as a child. The impact of a person’s relationship with fitness as a child had a massive impact on their relationship with it as an adult.

“This really struck a chord with me. During my accident, my surgeons all told me that the only reason I had made such a good recovery was because of how fit and healthy I was. I was only fit and healthy because I loved to dance as a child and that love had stayed with me as an adult.

“What about all the kids who hadn’t found their way with dance or sports? How were they meant to be fit and healthy?

“How were they meant to grow into fit and healthy adults?

“It was like an epiphany. There are plenty of opportunities for kids who are interested in mainstream sports but what about those who aren’t? And so RINKA was created. My aim was to teach kids that fitness was fun. I removed all elements of competition and focused on showing children that the goal is to feel their best rather than to be the best.

“At RINKA, we don’t expect skill or talent, we simply encourage children to take part in order to allow us to build their confidence and their sense of competency. Children label themselves from a young age as ‘sporty’ and ‘not sporty’ and by the time they have reached six years of age, they have identified with one or the other, and if they negatively identify themselves, they are far less likely to take part as they get older.

“Tackling self-confidence in sport is essential and I believe it needs to go even further than that. We need to differentiate between sport and fitness. Not every child is going to love sports, but every child needs to love fitness.

“We need to focus on creating a space that encourages kids to learn and master the fundamentals of sport – every child needs to be able to run, skip, hop and develop basic ball skills but they need a non-competitive environment in which to do it and that’s what RINKA was going to do.”

In 2016, Sarah (above) started the first classes.

“At this time, I was still nursing a lot of injuries and knew that I needed to employ instructors to do the physical teaching for me. Fast forward to 2022 and we are now teaching RINKA classes to children all over Ireland with staff and a team of nearly 30.

“The success of the business is, I believe, down to two things. Firstly, the amazing team of instructors who teach RINKA is as passionate about improving children’s health as I am and go above and beyond to make the kids in their classes feel welcome, special, and important. Secondly, parents want the benefits the classes have to offer – healthy, active, confident children.

“So as the RINKA classes became more established, and my health got better and better, I finally ventured back into the Irish dancing scene and, while I never danced competitively again, I found such a deep satisfaction in teaching. I set up on own school, Scoil Rince Tir Chonaill, and have brought the RINKA ethos to those classes too.”

A few of her dancers choose to compete, and for a small school, they have won many titles over the last few years: World, All Ireland, Irish Open, and British Open but the majority of her dancers just do it for fun.

“And it is so important to me that they feel they can do that and still be a valued member of the school. I hope that when my dancers grow up, they will have nothing but fond memories of their dancing days and I hope they will remember me as a teacher who always believed in them.

“Since my degree, I have completed a certificate in nutrition, hold the level 6 award in Training Delivery and Evaluation, and am currently halfway through a master's in health promotion from NUI Galway. I have a desire to constantly better myself by helping other people to be healthier, more active, and more confident in fitness.

“While my business degree was a starting point, I think it is that desire to help children that spurs me on. I might not have regained the movement in my right arm after the accident had I not had the resilience and strength that comes from being healthy.

She adds: “All children deserve to find their relationship with fitness, dance, or any sport of their choosing and should feel good about taking part for the sake of taking part. I think if I can be a small part of that journey for a child, then that will have been a life worth living.

Studio S already has a number of class providers offering their classes from it. Physio Eireann runs five weekly pilates classes, Donegal Town Kickboxing Club trains twice a week, Amy Kate Callaghan offers contemporary dance classes for kids and teens, as well as her popular Boogie Nights fitness classes for adults and of course, RINKA Kids Fitness and Scoil Rince Tir Chonaill, have made it their home too with classes running all week long.

“And this is just the start. Studio S is open to all class providers who would like a fun-filled, positive environment from which to run their sessions and we will be adding to our class offering as the weeks go on.”

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