‘If I’m In Something, I’m In 100%’: Dancing With The Stars’ Anna Geary On Love, Sport, And Body Image

Vicki Notaro sits down with the All Ireland camogie champ.

Anna Geary is strong. She has abs of steel, superb guns and back definition most women would kill for. And it’s not surprising, really. The woman played four All Ireland Finals for Cork senior camogie, captaining the side to victory in 2014 – all the while keeping up a full-time job in a technology multinational. She’s also a coach on Ireland’s Fittest Family, the programme where mams, dads and kids around the country compete in seemingly superhuman feats of physical endurance. You wouldn’t get any couch potatoes appearing on that show.

But what’s been keeping her on her toes for the past few months is dancing. At the time of going to press, the 30-year-old was through to the quarter final of RTE2’s Dancing With The Stars, and bookies odds had her going all the way to the final, especially considering she’s never been in the dance-off. When we spoke just before week 10 though, while she was feeling confident, Alannah Beirne’s exit the week before had shook her a bit.

“Alannah leaving just showed that everyone is at such a high standard, and anyone can go,” she said. “But I am smiling from ear to ear, taking it all as it comes and enjoying every moment. As clichéd as it sounds, it’s the people that have made the experience.”

I’ve met the most unbelievable people, made two dozen new friends with a brilliant bond. Whether we’re out socialising, going for coffee between rehearsals or just sharing the same panic, we’ve spent so much time together. The pros are so humble, and great to be around. I love listening to how people prepare, and their drive and resilience is unbelievable. When they’re injured or tired, they just pass a barrier, it’s all mind over matter and a case of how much do you want it?

Anna knows all about that drive and determination from her days in the GAA. “I think playing camogie at that level has definitely stood to me, there were weeks when I started back in rehearsals with bad feedback and scores, but I have to remember that in this case, I’m not meant to be a professional, it’s not meant to be perfect, and the public just want to see you being fearless and trying and improving! I have very high standards and put lots of pressure on myself. For me, the challenge for Kai has been to get me to relax!”

There have been romance rumours abounding about many of the contestants, especially Anna and Kai because of their close bond. But 30-year-old Anna is happily in love with her boyfriend Kev of almost three years. “Kev feels like he’s in the competition too, we have a lot of friends’ weddings this year, and he’s worried that everyone will be expecting him to be amazing when we take to the dancefloor!” she laughs.

Was he worried at all about the infamous Strictly curse, where dancers in close quarters have often fallen in love on the BBC version of the show? Anna dismisses that.

We had a big chat about it at the start, because I had to make sure he was comfortable with it – mostly with the time commitment element, because we’re like ships in the night right now! He’s taken on responsibility for the house and keeping the fridge stocked because he knows that if I’m in something, I’m all in, 100%. Once I knew he was behind me and fully accepting, I knew no matter what happened we’d be fine. There have been times when I come home frustrated, and he’s there with dinner or a cup of tea and the fire lit, and it just means the world.

Anna’s dad has joked that she had to go all the way to Dublin to find a fella, but Kev’s work with the GAA provided a common ground with her father.

“But they also don’t treat me any differently, and have been known to put inverted commas around the ‘stars’ in the show’s title! They’d have no trouble bringing me back down to earth!” she laughs.

Anna credits her family with encouraging her towards All Ireland greatness as well. “I played camogie for 12 years at a senior inter-county level, I was on the panel from the age of 16. I grew up in an environment where GAA is at the fore, but when I was younger I was a very average player. But at school I had good coaches that were really positive and encouraging. They taught me to stop worrying and to express myself, and my confidence grew. My parents always encouraged me to play sport from a social point of view, rather than any pressure to be the best. I still remember going into first year and being the only one on the Junior B panel, all of my friends were on the A. You want to be where your friends are, so I was deflated, but always had drive and determination. I didn’t develop massive talent over night, but encouragement does wonders.”

As GAA is still an amateur sport in Ireland, Anna had a day job – and not just any day job, but a successful one in big business. “A good pensionable job! But in the summer of 2015, I went through a lot of changes. I’d been working in IT companies for seven years, but I loved the idea of getting into performance coaching and psychology. So I started that course, and reassessed my priorities and did a lot of reflecting. I decided to leave my job in a really good corporate company, and I retired from Cork at the same time that my year as the Cork Rose was coming to an end. It all happened in the space of two months, I was 27 going on 28, and I think my mam thought I was going through some sort of crisis! But I still aways had that support.”

Anna says she had no Plan B and no back up, but also no mortgage or children to look after. “The next day, the producer of Ireland’s Fittest Family got on to me, and after that, Marty Morrissey rang me about his Radio One show, and it’s all just built from there. I’m high energy, but I’d no experience in media! You have to learn as you go.” Now more than two years later, she’s qualified as a performance and lifestyle coach with a burgeoning media career, surely only to be heightened by her profile-raising stint on DWTS – and her beautiful, sunny face and radiant personality certainly won’t hinder her.

As I mentioned previously, this woman is strong. The day of our cover shoot, we were all marvelling at her six pack and her toned arms. Ironically, those were the very things she was concerned about before hitting our TV screens in sequins.

I will be very honest, one of my fears before DWTS was how people would perceive my body shape. Mine is no better or worse than anyone else’s, but it is a very different shape. But thankfully I’ve had lots of parents getting in touch telling me that I’m a positive role model for their daughters, that it’s great to see an athletic physique like mine. ‘Strong is the new skinny’ is a term that’s thrown around, and I guess I’m a living embodiment for that, because I could diet for a year and I wouldn’t be what’s perceived as ‘skinny’.

“I am strong. I have to embrace and own it! And look, I probably represent a quite typical body type – I’m short! I have curves, and muscular legs from running.”

Don’t for a second think her body is anything but the result of hard work though. “I’m like everyone else, I love a good takeaway and I have sweet teeth, not even a sweet tooth! But I understand two things – that we have to be very realistic about our circumstances, and consistency. During the big snow, my priorities were to train really hard given the weather, not to eat really well. So that was being realistic and kind to myself.”

Anna’s also a proponent of working out for mental health, and is still hitting the gym three times a week in the midst of all her DWTS training. “It’s not about aesthetics, it’s about clearing my head and keeping my energy up. I do HIIT, I do weight training, but recently it’s been more about the cardio so Kai can lift me!”

An incredibly girly girl, she loved all the pink and glam on our shoot.

When I step into sport, I’m as fierce as they come. But I absolutely love tan, shopping and the high heels as well. I love getting dressed up, and I want young girls to see that they don’t have to compromise. I think a big reason a lot of young women give up on sports is that they might have a preconceived notion of what they’ll look like or how they need to behave. You don’t have to choose one or the other.

So what’s next for her? “I have to wait and see, and await my fate! I’m an organised person, I like to plan, but my lifestyle now means that sometimes you don’t know what job is coming, and you just have to hope everything will lead to further work. But I love the media stuff, I get such a buzz from it that’s similar to the rush of running out in a big stadium!”

Here’s to seeing more of Anna – something we’re pretty certain of.

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