Over the last few weeks, 'Ireland's Fittest Family' has wowed audiences with terrifying courses, incredible feats of strength and especially strong female role models. Coaches Anna Geary and Derval O'Rourke reflect on the show's message about women. 

When families gather around the television on Sunday nights to watch Ireland's Fittest Family, they're sure to receive a number of things: thrills, inspiration and - whether they immediately realise this or not - stunning representation of strong and empowered women. 

The acclaimed show has been celebrated for many reasons, and its model of determined, everyday families overcoming obstacles and literally fighting fire to emerge victorious has proven incredibly popular with viewers. But it's the subliminal messages about gender, strength and womanhood that may prove the most groundbreaking. 

Derval O'Rourke, former professional athlete and one of the four coaches on the show, says that the gender balance is vital to the show's message. "There’s two female coaches and two male coaches and it's rare to see that representation in sport", she says. 

"Ireland's Fittest Family is all about inclusivity because of the fact that there has to be girls in every team, there have to be parents in every team." This is in addition to the incredible diversity showed across the teams, which this year includes the show's oldest contestant, a grandfather aged 63.

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She highlights how impressive all teams have been this season but in, particular, the mothers and daughters, who week after week have proven themselves as titan teammates, and many of whom secured places for their teams in later rounds, such as Colette Lally who stunned audiences with her incredible performance on the Hanging Tough challenge. 

"One of my biggest challenges this year was that I kept wanting to be friends with the mums of families I wasn’t coaching. I had to stop myself", Derval says.  

Anna Geary agrees, pointing to how sport and fitness helped her as a young girl and how this is the message she always strives to put across. "Fitness never stops", she says. "Particularly for younger girls, because I was a younger girl, not too long ago, and I was lucky that I was encouraged to take up sport."

Her focus is on "walking the walk" and leading by example, another thing that Ireland's Fittest Family excels at. She says that this is the kind of show she would want the children or young people in her life watching, as many of them around the country do. 

"I think what I would want if I were to have kids, is for them to grow up in a society if there were a brother and sister, and for them to look at each other as equals. Not just in business or life, but in sport as well. The more heroes you have for men and women it’s really important that younger people see that there’s no difference in them."

She recalls a 14-year-old girl in the previous season "smashed it", adding that "some of the mothers this year are incredible and that’s what you want to see. You want people at home to identify with someone". 

This is in contrast to much of what we see about fitness, and particularly women in fitness, on social media, as Instagram has become the most prominent source of "fitspo" and mini-tutorials on exercising. It's also arguably the most popular advertisement for a certain kind of exercise, which can range from what Derval calls the "strong is the new skinny" approach to the purely aesthetic approach to the "gym life". 

This is especially important for young girls, whose combination of possible self-consciousness combines with the pervasive presence of social media to create worrying expectations about how they should look. 

"I know young girls watch my account so I’m really careful not to promote one thing over another and post really simple healthy things to do", she says. "I was a professional athlete for 14 years and I look at some people's Instagrams and I feel negative after looking at them. It can just get under your skin. I would much rather tell someone how to batch cook."