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My father and brother were murdered. I was surrounded by gangland violence. But I came out the other side

What I Do: George McCabe is owner of G Force Fitness at the St John Bosco Youth Centre in Drimnagh, Dublin 12

I’ve been through a lot of trauma and heartbreak in my life.

My father was murdered when I was eight, in Tallaght. My brother was murdered on my 18th birthday, he was tortured to death in Inchicore. I was shot myself in both knees and was in a wheelchair for two years.

My brothers and I were brought up surrounded by gangland violence. For three years after my brother died, I spiralled into madness; I got into the violence and kind of involved with gangs. But once that happened to my legs, I was gone. Never went back. I was a normal person. I was just brought through a hell of a life, and I came out the other side. I did about 16 months in treatment for drugs in Scotland, and when I got out, that was it. If I’d kept going, I probably wouldn’t be alive today.

I shaped my own future, I could’ve gone down a different road, but I didn’t, for my kids and my girlfriend, Amy. She has played a massive part. For 20 years, she’s dragged me out of every hole I was ever in, always standing over me to throw the rope and bring me back out. When she got pregnant, I decided to make a change. I didn’t want my son to grow up without a father the way I did. He’s 13 now, so I’m 13 years away from that life, and I haven’t looked back. It’s a dark world, everyone is your enemy.

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Once my two kids are happy, nothing else stops me. My future is their future, and I will keep pushing because I want to give them more than I ever had. They’re the reason I got clean and walked away from that life. They’re my best friends.

I used to work as a personal trainer in a gym in Rialto, then lockdown came and I got into a bad rut. I started doing online classes for free on Instagram. Then we went out to the field, which was also free the first few weeks. We started buying equipment and went up to €2.50 a class. People thought I was mad only charging €2.50. But we were in the middle of lockdown, my main goal was getting people in, I didn’t care about the money, because what could you spend money on?

During Covid, people were coming to us with a lot of fear, so I tried to break that. I didn’t bring too much nutrition into it, I just wanted them to train hard, and feel that after 45 minutes in my boot camp, they could tackle anything. I got about 30 people paying a tenner a week for four classes. I saved up until I got €2,000 and bought them all dumbbells, and I saved up more.

I bought all the members clothes with my logo on them. It was free advertising – I couldn’t afford big ads and I had no platforms on social media – and they would be warm during the classes and safe going home in their hats, scarves, jumpers, yellow visor jackets and masks. I bought lights in the local shop for dark evenings to light up the field like a Christmas tree. We kept growing from there. We moved into St John Bosco Youth Centre in Drimnagh in the summer of 2021.

We have clients from the age of 14, and our eldest is 65; she’s just completed her first marathon. We’ve multiple nationalities. We don’t look for people that are hoping to get big muscles, we just want to help the mind.

We want to build a community, a gym of people that are like-minded and here for the right reasons, to help themselves. It’s the feel good factor of being able to walk in that door and know they have 45 minutes of a high intensity structured programme where they don’t have the ability to talk. When they come in here, they have 45 minutes of silence from the outside. It’s hectic in here but they forget their mortgage, the nagging husband or wife, the grumpy kids, the stress of being, of living. And the trainers – Conor, Mick, Craig and I – didn’t build that, that built itself. At the end of the class, they’re like, “I’m after forgetting everything, that was the best class in the world”. It’s only the best class because they forgot about the world. That makes us super proud.

We do a lot of charity events, free things with the schools, with the addiction centres, with the youth centre. We try to help out as much as we can. We keep our gym at a community price that everybody can afford.

When people come in here, they get love, they get respect, they get structure. They get to know their ability, that they can work hard, and that changes everything. When you walk out those doors after 45 minutes of hard work with your chest high and your chin up and all the stress in your head gone, that’s what this gym is.

– In conversation with Ellen O’Donoghue