Our new TV series ‘Get off the Couch!’ starts on Setanta Ireland for six weeks on October 24th at 10pm and I’m sure it will get a fair amount of repeats across the winter and spring. It has been a full year since we started this project and probably two years, at least, since we first bid for funding for it from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Nothing very much, happens very quickly in documentaries but its the in depth nature of this project which makes it different. We recruited six people from across the country, three men and three women, aged from 23 to 50, and their only common purpose was to get active and change their lives. Three of them, the three men, were out of work but Joe (23), Damien (37) and Eamonn (46) came from different experiences, skills and backgrounds. What has been fascinating is that as the six began to work and achieve physical goals their mental attitude changed. In most cases by the end of the six months of filming, during which they took on extreme outdoor sports, ran, cycled, swam and climbed mountains, the six, both men and women were using the H word - happiness.
Our presenter in the series Teena Gates has learnt that lesson herself by changing her physical health and fitness, she’s changed every aspect of her lifestyle. For me as the producer/director of the series the driving question of the series is ‘what happens when you do something you have never done before, and that you are scared of doing?’. Things shift, change and your mind alters. There is no going back.
That sense of the brain, the mind and our mental attitude to the world as plastic is one of the things we are exploring in our current radio series ‘Science is Everywhere’ which is a new series for Newstalk. If the brain is plastic it challenges our sense that things are fixed. So if someone is blind, can they come to see again? If a man is paralysed can he learn to walk again?
Which brings me to our friend and presenter Mark Pollock who is working with us on a new documentary Beyond Limits: the Next Generation which follows up on our documentary on the paralympic athletes including the amazing Jason Smyth last year. Mark is both blind and paralysed yet every day challenges our sense or perception of what that level of disability means. He is walking over 3,000 steps a day now in his bionic legs and has experimented with cutting edge research on seeing via the taste buds too.
Mark Pollock inspires me personally and challenges the way I limit myself every day. Get off the Couch! is about letting us think big and knowing that if you try, and train, you may just do it. Beyond Limits - 1 and 2 - brings forth the stories of people who refuse to be boxed or defined and who achieve their goals and dreams by endurance, hard work and believing in the possibility of change and transformation.
On November 13th, the third Run in the Dark takes place organised by the Mark Pollock Trust. It grew from a desire of Pollock’s friends to support him post his accident when he broke his back. In a short few years, Mark Pollock has gone from being extremely ill and with low independence to now living a fully independent life, training in the TCD gym every other day and travelling the world through his work and campaigns. On the night Athena Media will be running, or walking, the 5 and 10km not just to get ourselves off the couch but to support and give witness to the concept of believing in change, in working to make a positive change and in the leadership of people like Mark Pollock to show us the way.