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Iron nan Bodybuilder pensioner Iris has battled poverty, tragedy and depression but she’s still fighting fit

Iris – originally from the same part of Dublin as Conor McGregor but now living in the US – told the Sunday World how she came out of retirement 11 years ago to get back on the stage to strut her stuff and has never looked back


Iris Davis (77) has added to her bodybuilding titles

Iris Davis (77) has added to her bodybuilding titles

Iris Davis (77) has added to her bodybuilding titles

Supernan bodybuilder Iris Davis is testament that age is no barrier and she regularly tells pensioners to get off their ass to get happy!

The 77-year-old fitness trainer looked in astonishing shape as she competed in the world’s first virtual fitness modelling contest – which was run from Ballygowan, Co Down.

Incredible Iris, who still trains three hours every day, was celebrating after winning a raft of awards at the Northern Ireland Fitness Modelling Championships organised by fitness guru Martin Spence.

Iris – originally from the same part of Dublin as Conor McGregor but now living in the US – told the Sunday World how she came out of retirement 11 years ago to get back on the stage to strut her stuff and has never looked back.

Speaking from her home in South Carolina, which she shares with her husband Robert, she told us: “I started bodybuilding 50 years ago when there were no women doing it. At first, I wasn’t even allowed into any gym because they were just for men.

“But I fought and pushed and fought some more and I’ve won over 15 bodybuilding contests.

“In 2010 when I was 66 I retired from competing. I accepted that my career was over because I thought nobody wants to see a 66-year-old woman up on stage in a bikini.

“By then I had my own gym, my own clients and I was doing really well. I still trained just as hard and my clients kept saying, ‘you should still be competing’.

“Last year I called the organiser of a show I did in Florida in 2010 and said I was still in great shape at 77 and wanted to get back on the stage.

“He arranged a contest for over-60s and since then I’ve won three bodybuilding contests and in July I’m going for a national title!”


Iris in competition

Iris in competition

Iris in competition

And last weekend the titles kept rolling in as she scooped the Miss Bikini, Miss Toned in the over-70s categories and came second overall in the Miss Fitness Athletic – competing against women more than half her age!

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Despite a very hard life blighted by tragedy and illness, Iris is not lacking in confidence.

“I’m bloody great,” says Iris. “That’s what I have to tell myself all the time to get myself going and to get myself on stage.

“I have no fear about putting a bikini on at my age – why the hell should I?

“When I do something I don’t want to just do okay at it – I want to be the best. I still think I’m in the same shape I was in 55 years ago. There have been ups and downs but I never give up.

“I have many elderly clients who come to me and say they can’t train but if they take a pill they can walk a bit. I tell them to just get off their ass – it’ll be hard but it’ll get easier and just because they are old they can still do whatever they want.

“And after they do some hard work and fight they are amazed at what they can do.”


Iris Davis

Iris Davis

Iris Davis


Iris says her drive was born on the streets of Crumlin, Dublin, where she grew up during the ’40s and ’50s.

And she reveals it was the shocking loss of her two-month-old baby and soon after her first husband that started on the path of fitness.

“I grew up in Crumlin on the wrong side of the tracks, I guess you would say,” she explains. “I left school at 14 having suffered at the hands of the nuns like most people did back then and I was told regularly I wouldn’t amount to anything. I was working in a factory when I met my first husband Johnny and we got married when I was 17.

“Shortly after we had a son but he died after two months. That was very hard to take but things got worse when I was just 22 when Johnny was killed in an accident.

“By then we were living in London and I had a six-month-old son but was a complete mess. My heart was just broken and I didn’t know what to do.”

Iris says, before he died, Johnny had put her through secretarial school and she learned more in those months than she did in the whole of school.

“I had no idea how I was going to survive. I was poor, we didn’t have social services back then and I had no idea how I was going to feed the two of us.

“I lay in bed hoping to die but after a few days I realised I wasn’t going to die. I had a broken heart but it wasn’t going to kill me so I just walked and walked and realised the exercise made me feel better.”


Iris Davis

Iris Davis

Iris Davis

Inspired by Mary Poppins, Iris says she applied for a job as a nanny in the US and within a week had a job and she left London for Massachusetts in 1966 where she worked for a widowed doctor for five years looking after his four kids as well as her own son.

“I was still very depressed but I stuck through the hard times and I ended up loving the job, saving a fortune in the process because I had no rent or food to pay for.

“I had to start training myself because the local gyms wouldn’t let a woman in. I had to teach it all to myself.

“When I was finally allowed into a gym I was watching the men and then copying them but realised what worked for men didn’t work for women so I had to adapt sessions.

“I was diagnosed with encephalitis when I was 47 and it completely floored me.

“But I fought it and slowly built my strength up and by the age of 50 I was competing in my first bodybuilding show.

“I had to compete against the men because there were no women. I’d like to think of myself as a trailblazer.” Despite ‘retiring’, Iris returned last year.

“I’m in as good a shape as ever,” she says. “ I only had an audience of one, my husband, but I had great fun and  won a couple of titles.”

Iris says she still battles with her depression and over the years she’s had three nervous breakdowns but says without her exercise regime she probably wouldn’t be alive today.

“Every day is an effort, every day I have to kick my own ass but I’m still here and I’m still winning!

“That’s my message to people – if you want it enough you’ll do it.”


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