All going well, Phil Healy will be in Paris for the Olympic Games this summer.

The native of Ballineen in West Cork has held the national 100m and 200m records and took part in the delayed Tokyo games in 2021, under her own steam and in the team that reached the final of the 4x400m mixed relay.

Now 29, that she should be involved in Paris should not be a surprise but fate can often intervene and not always positively. A thyroid issue affected her performance in 2022, to the extent where she admits that she considered retirement.

A diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease allowed the issue to be managed and she is now looking forward with optimism.

'A lot of unknowns'

“It was definitely two rough years, very rough,” she says.

“That’s obviously a long time. I suppose an injury would be a lot more straightforward in that you’d know your road to recovery but, for me, there were definitely a lot of unknowns for a while.

“Mentally, it affected me more than anything. When things aren’t going your way but you don’t know why that is and you just keep trying and trying and trying, it’s like you’re digging yourself into a bigger hole and it got to a stage where I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.

“I contemplated retiring many times – and it wasn’t just the ‘weak’ option of quitting the sport. I had achieved so much and gone to the Olympics, gone to Worlds and Europeans and been in those major finals.

“I was sacrificing so much, training and pushing myself to the max and things just weren’t going my way, so I did think about retiring but I stuck with it.

“My body just needed a break, mentally and physically. I had that at the end of last summer and things have come full circle. We’re definitely in a good place for 2024 and going into another Olympics.”

Goal focused

Having dealt with something like that, the unavailability of the track at Cork’s Mardyke – it was recently closed at short notice due to health and safety reasons – is a problem but not an insurmountable one.

Healy’s job as a software engineer with Sun Life means that she was splitting her time between Cork and Waterford anyway and she will be using the track at the Regional Sports Centre on Suirside more as a result.

Balancing her professional duties with the demands placed on an international athlete can be a challenge but Healy is cognisant of the bigger picture.

“It definitely is two full-time jobs, to be honest,” she says.

“Training is six days a week, work is obviously five days a week, there are times when it’s really full-on and then times when it’s a bit more chilled.

“Work is flexible, it’s not a rigid 9-5, but it does need to be done and I obviously have to put in the hours of a full-time employee.

“I’m lucky to have the balance of both. I’ve done the full-time athlete and I have to remember as well that I am pushing on and sport isn’t going to last forever and you’re not going to make a fortune out of it.

“For me, my career has been just as important as the sporting side of things and its important to look long-term, in terms of getting a house and financial security and things like that.

“I need to have that fall-back, so now is my opportunity to get that experience and work my way up the ladder. When I do eventually retire from sport, I can fully focus on my career then.”

Set for Paris

Between now and then, there is a lot more running to do, not least securing the spots in the various events for Paris.

The Ireland team, from left, Sophie Becker, Phil Healy, Roisin Harrison and Sharlene Mawdsley after the Women’s 4 x 400m Relay Final on day three of the World Indoor Athletics Championships 2024 at Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland. \Sportsfile

Healy was recently part of the Irish team which set a new national record, coming fifth in the 4x400m relay at the World Indoor Championships, boding well for qualification.

“We have to go to world relays in the Bahamas on the first weekend of May,” Healy says.

“Sixteen countries will be selected for Paris and 14 of those come from that event. The top 32 countries in the world are going to be there and that’s our shot to qualify both for the mixed relay and the women’s 4x400m.

“Obviously, we had the mixed relay team there in Tokyo and now is our opportunity to get the women’s 4x400m team in. We should hopefully get both teams over the line.

“Individual qualification runs right up to the end of June. At the moment, the 200m is the aim – I’ll obviously still be racing over 400m, because I need to continue securing my spot for the relay, and so I’ll be mixing up between both events.”

Support from the crowd

Like so many sporting events in the COVID-19 world, the Tokyo Olympics lacked spectators, making for an eerie feel.

Getting the chance to compete in a full stadium, with family, friends and supporters present, is something Healy is really looking forward to.

“A hundred percent,” she says, “we went to the most non-Olympic Olympics.

“We couldn’t go to see any other events, it was athletics only, you couldn’t mix with other team members, you couldn’t talk to them inside in the dining hall because everything was screened up and you were tested every single day.

“We were flown home early and we were glad of that, because there was nothing we could do after we finished competing.

“You went into a stadium and there were no spectators, whereas we’ll be going to Paris, which is basically a home games for us, with so many people going over, so it’ll be a totally different experience.

“For me, I knew no better because I had never gone to an Olympics whereas those that had been there in 2016 saw the difference.

“Definitely, I want to experience the real Olympic feel this summer.”

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