The Rinka Rose!

Active kids are happy kids in Castlerea

Originally from Dublin, Meaghan O’Doherty now lives near Ballinlough, where she has fully embraced farm life with her partner David. Crowned Castlerea Rose in 2015, the 28-year-old works at St. Michael’s Special School and is also a RINKA instructor in the town and at other local venues too. She recently provided Dan Dooner with a complete RINKA rundown…

Tell us a bit about RINKA?

RINKA Ireland originated in Donegal town and Sarah Gillespie is the CEO. She set up RINKA due to her past experiences of how important fitness and movement is for children. Sandra Griffin is with RINKA Midlands and she is excellent too. Sarah and Sandra are two people I look up to and it’s great to see women running a business.

  I was an Irish dancer for years and so was Sarah and there is an element of dance and free movement in the classes. It’s a fitness class for kids aged three up to eleven and we are also trying to get RINKA Toddle Dance up and running too. We have also worked with first year students in secondary schools.

Where do classes take place in Castlerea?

Classes take place at Trinity Arts Centre and before Covid I would have been doing two classes a day Monday to Friday. We had a class for ages 3-5 early in the evenings and then class for ages 6-11 later on. So around 22 children in a class and over 100 kids a week. I also did birthday parties at the weekends too. I started in February 2019 and it took off straight away. It was something new and different in Castlerea and I wanted to cater for kids who weren’t interested in team sports or the other activities that are well represented in town.

What does a typical RINKA class involve?

At RINKA, we have activities around ball skills, gymnastics, and we work on all the fundamental movements and skills. We incorporate games and activities so that all children can work on as much of these movements and skills as they can. They then find out what they like and don’t like. This then opens up pathways to other activities as they get older.

  The main focus is making sure a child smiles when they come to class and that they’re comfortable but that their confidence grows. Classes are a really positive setting and kids are met with a smiling, friendly instructor who’s willing to help them with being more physically active in a fun environment. It’s always about the kids and even during lockdown I made sure that I kept in contact with parents and that they were kept up to date with what was happening online.

How did Covid impact RINKA?

Like school, RINKA was just shut down as soon as we went into the first lockdown. The kids had their friends in school but they also had their friends in RINKA and that was a huge thing. It really affected them mentally and physically. When classes shut down we offered online classes and free workouts with Sandra and AJ from RINKA Midlands. It was great to be able to provide that but there wasn’t that physical presence in class. It was very hard to give guidance through a screen.

  When the announcement was made by then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the first thing I though about was the kids and how disappointed they’d be. As time went on, I really started to panic because the kids were missing out on physical activity and the social element.

When did you resume classes and what’s the plan for 2022?

I reopened in November of 2021, a year and a half since we first shut down. We had gone from one lockdown to another and I just didn’t want to be promising parents and kids a week of classes here and there. I started off with a Facebook post announcing that I was coming back at the end of October last year and the waiting list started to get longer and longer again!

  Before Covid, I had classes in a number of other places such as Ballymoe, Tooreen and Ballyhaunis, and there are still kids waiting for me to come back to those areas.

  I’m hoping that we can get back to doing two classes in Castlerea twice a week after Easter and that maybe someone else will come on board with me so we can cover those other areas again.

  There’s something special about going into a class full of kids…you just bounce off their energy! Parents have told me that their kids just don’t get as excited about other activities as they do for RINKA. It’s really nice when you get to see that side of things.