Athletics

Pure Steely Determination Created Minor Miracle For Phil Healy

Pure Steely Determination Created Minor Miracle For Phil Healy

12 weeks after breaking her foot while walking down a cobbled street, Phil Healy stepped onto the track for the 200m at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples.

Just being there for the heat was a real accomplishment, a bright sign of the Bandon sprinter's iron will.

"By right, I shouldn't have been there," the Irish 100m and 200m record holder told Balls.

It was during an April warm weather training camp in Malta that the injury happened. Just three months out from her final World University Games, it was a major blow, made all the worse that it came shortly the best training session she'd ever done.

"The times were absolutely super," says Healy.

I was just walking through Valetta to where we were staying and I wobbled off a tiny step. I thought it was just a simple roll over on the ankle. It was an avulsion fracture. The force from the muscle on the side of my leg pulled on the bone.

It turned out to be a fifth metatarsal break. It was millimetres away from surgery. I was lucky in that sense but I knew straight away that once I took the next step that it was broken.

In the hospital waiting for the result of the x-ray, I cried for the full two hours that I was there between the pain and knowing it was going to be bad news.

At the Irish University Championships in April, Healy ran 23.04, just 0.05 outside her Irish record; an encouragingly fast time considering how early it was in the season. The injury was a devastating setback but Healy and her coach Shane McCormack did not let it KO them.

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At the World University Games two years ago, Healy finished seventh in the 200m. In between then and now, she has moved her training base from Cork to the Waterford Institute of Technology where she is studying for a Masters in Enterprise Computer Software. The move was also a practical one for her running career: It brought her closer to McCormack, allowing them to extract every drop from the partnership.

"When we got back to the hotel, we made a plan," says Healy.

"When I flew back, I went to see Johnny McKenna, the specialist in Santry Sports Clinic. He was hugely positive. He took me out of the [protective] boot 12 days later. He said I could push on with my training with the bike and swimming.

"It was an intense first six weeks. I would have trained two to three times a day, every day. I had three days off in the space of four weeks. It was hard.

"I knew that day when I found out that it was broken, I had no other choice. I knew I had to make a second plan as I couldn’t run. I had to make the most of the new opportunities I had to become better in other areas."

Few avenues were left unexplored as Healy pushed hard to rehab the injury. A month after the break, she began travelling to Dublin to train on the anti-gravity treadmill at the Sport Ireland Institute. They gave her a bone healing machine and she used another one to stimulate her calf muscle.

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"To be fair to my coach Shane," says Healy, "he was at every single session and he was driving me here, there and everywhere because I couldn’t drive with the foot.

"We went swimming at seven o’clock in the morning, he used to come down to me in Waterford from Wexford."

Six weeks after the injury occurred and she was back in runners able to stride out.

The rehab, I didn’t expect it to be so hard. Learning how to run again, I hadn’t been running in six weeks. It’s something I do every single day and you think it’s the most natural thing for everybody to do.

The whole process of it felt so unnatural. It took a good few weeks to get back into the swing of things. By week 10, week 11, things started to come together.

On July 10th, Healy won that 200m heat. It was a massive relief, the cobwebs of uncertainty were blown out.

She progressed through the semi-finals as one of the two fastest non-automatic qualifiers but the final came a little too quick for someone whose wheels had only started to turn freely a week before.

Still, she finished sixth, running 23.44. Beyond that, Healy undoubtedly learned a lot about herself. She had faced the first major injury challenge of her career and overcome it with admirable determination.

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PJ Browne
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