“It can be difficult and it has been. At times you may feel like you’re on top, and then in a second you are struggling”
In the hype of the economic crash in Ireland in 2010, I can only imagine the doubt cast on a 23-year-old college student who decided to start his own business in a small, bypassed town in South Mayo. As it turns out, it was the best decision he ever made.
As lunchtime approaches, I realise only when it is too late that I could have chosen a better time to meet with gym owner Conor Finn. “Are you ready for your session?” he jokes. From our position at the reception area, the steady stream of members entering the gym develops into a constant flow. The floor quickly becomes populated and the music gets louder. I notice a huge sense of community between members that transcends typical gym behaviour. I cannot pinpoint the stereotypical nervous first-timer. Nor can I spot the pre-workout fuelled gym addict with their headphones roaring. Odd. I wonder about the three men wearing T-shirts with the Axsom Sports logo circling the floor, laughing with a member one minute to demonstrating a movement in the next. “Are they personal trainers?” I ask.
“They are strength and conditioning coaches and our full-time employees. They are there to make sure every member is performing their exercises correctly and knows what they are doing”.
It is only a few months since the 29-year-old married his childhood sweetheart, Lynda, in the historic site of Ballintubber Abbey. The smile is still etched on his face. However, Finn has returned to reality and the daily grind associated with running a business. “I’m lucky [she] is patient. She is almost finished completing a Phd in Psychology so we are equally busy at the moment.
Finn promises to take us from the top, or the bottom as it might be.
Conor Finn completed his Leaving Cert at the age of 17. “Looking back I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do.” “I had an interest in cars so I was directed towards mechanical engineering by career advisors in school.” His avid participation with the Claremorris football team and love for Mayo GAA didn’t come into consideration when deciding a career path. Having quickly realised his passion didn’t lie with engineering, Finn moved home to work full-time. It wasn’t until he was 22 that he decided to go back to college, to study Sport with Business at Sligo IT. This involved a twice-daily hour-long commute from home. “It was difficult and tiring. But at least I knew this time it was something I really wanted. I had the comfort of living at home and having homemade dinners which definitely helped,” he smiled.
He began his journey as an entrepeneur by assembling a gym in the garage of his family home while still studying at Sligo IT. There, he founded Mayo Weightlifting Club, bribing his younger brothers and sisters to join his Olympic Weightlifting group in order to accumulate enough numbers to formulate a club and take part in competitions. From there, he advanced through two commercial units trading as Platinum Performance. During this period, Finn managed to complete his Masters in Strength and Conditioning at the University of Chester.
He finally built his own high performance training facility in 2015 followed by a re-brand to ‘Axsom Sports Ltd’ . “It is a combination of two Greek words; Axon and Soma. The brain sends signals through axons to our muscles. Soma means body.”
In hindsight, it is everything the commercial gym isn’t, in the best possible way. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how it is financially possible to provide one to one training to each and every member without the hourly fee.
“It can be difficult and it has been. At times you may feel like you’re on top, and then in a second you are struggling.” He goes on to explain the entrepreneur’s dilemma. “If things are going well and you reach a certain level of growth, it is time to move forward and invest further. This adds pressure but it’s the only way for a business to be keep growing. You can’t stand still.”
In keeping with this concept, Finn shows me his plans to build onto the facility that we are sitting in, and constructing an entire new building in the same sportsground to cater for the growing demand and continuous interest of prospective members. “At the minute, we are at our capacity with members and can’t take on any more. So the extension is needed.” I assure him this is a good complaint.
We are kindly interrupted by Conor’s younger brother, Darragh. As Finn takes a phone call, his right-hand man introduces himself. He is one of the full-time staff at the facility and is also director of the company. I compliment the unique and friendly atmosphere in the gym. “If you go to a mainstream gym, once you’ve paid your membership, you are left to your own devices. This is why the gym can be a daunting place for most people.”
“It is company culture to ensure members feel as comfortable as possible and are guided along their fitness journey. No one is born knowing how to perform compound movements. It is something that you learn.”
To add to his astounding portfolio, Conor Finn is the strength and conditioning coach for the All-Ireland league champions, Mayo. “I suppose I am pretty busy. But again when you’re doing something you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work. My company and Mayo GAA are two of my passions. I’m lucky to call it my job.” The game has hit its peak of professionalism, monitoring players every move with the use of GPS systems. The device helps to measure the heart-rate and distance travelled by each player wearing it. “I look after the GPS systems. They provide us with feedback of progress or lack thereof, as well as indicating fatique, injury or overall readiness of the player.”
“We have to prepare to do it all over again in the championship. We said we wouldn’t have any regrets from this year’s outcome, and we don’t. As always we are back to do it all over again in 2019 and do it better.”
I recognise the unwaivering dedication now. A Mayo man. As his business has gone from strength to strength, so too has his status as one of the best S&C coaches in the country. The two go hand-in-hand. I leave promising to return for the gym session he mentioned. Something tells me we will hear a lot more about Conor Finn and the team at Axsom Sports in the future.