Not all victories can be weighed in gold, silver, or bronze.
A time of 23.56, a fifth-place finish and elimination from the heats of the 200m World Championships in Doha last October wouldn’t have normally been considered a success for Phil Healy but the year that unfurled in 2019 demanded a shift in perspective.
Healy’s coach Shane McCormack was blown away by his athlete’s effort, labelling her a “warrior” after a season which had been thrown off track by a broken metatarsal suffered in Malta in the most innocuous of circumstances and inopportune of times.
“I knew straight away that it was broken,” she said this week.
The World University Games was 12 weeks away at the time and that’s how long her rehab was due to take.
Injured on a Thursday, she was training by the Saturday. Rowing and cycling, mostly, with her good foot strapped in and her other dangling alongside in a moon boot.
There was just a week to go to the Games when she finally found her running rhythm. The plan at the start of the year had been a podium place but the sixth place she recorded in Naples was an astonishing achievement in such a recalibrated scenario.
“It was the most nerve-racking race. What am I going to be able to do? Am I going to be able to finish the race. It was my first performance back and it was on a world stage. To to run 23.4 on my first race back was absolutely super.
“It was a massive relief to know I was able to run again.”
From Italy to Qatar was no straight line. The effort involved in simply making it back from the injury eventually took its toll, mentally and physically, and the decision was taken, reluctantly, to drop out of the European Team Championships that was sandwiched between the two world events.
It was against that backdrop that she made for the Middle East and came up short of a semi-final.
“It wasn’t the result I was hoping for but I can’t be expecting national records or super-fast times when I had broken my foot,” said Healy. “That’s the season done for a lot of people when that happens, whereas I came back and competed in two world championships in the space of a few weeks.”
Everything about Healy screams intent and work ethic and perseverance but many athletes suffer from a tendency to overdo things and an inability to accept that less can sometimes mean more.
Learning that lesson has been invaluable.
“It is hard,” she agrees, “but you have to know when to switch off.”
Healy’s idea of switching off is very different to your average Mary Bloggs. The three weeks taken late in the year allowed her go home to Cork from Waterford where she is doing a Masters at Waterford IT but she pencilled in a bunch of training sessions while she was at it.
She’s in a good place now as 2020 kicks in, literally and metaphorically. WIT have been nothing but supportive in terms of athlete services and tweaking course requirements to suit her schedule and she is part of a high-performance group at the college that is helmed by McCormack.
The pair have been working together since 2014 and it’s a partnership that clearly works, with Healy claiming national records for the 100m and 200m back in 2018 but she is eager now to make up for lost time — nine weeks in all — after her fitness issues last year.
The 25-year-old is in Athlone this weekend for round two of the AAI National Indoor League, off to Vienna a week later, and then back to the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown for the National Indoors.
For me, it is all about getting as quick as I can over 200 indoor to increase my ranking points for Olympics. I’m lying in a qualifying spot so I just have to maintain that and boost myself up further. Hopefully, everything goes according to plan indoors and I can rack up the points.
Tokyo is the destination on everybody’s mind this year but you won’t hear it on the lips of too many athletes when there are six months to negotiate between now and then.
Healy is among those determined not to let the Games dictate her every movement and thought.
The switch from mostly 400m to 200m through this indoor season is the only concession being made to the five-ringed circus for now, and only then because of those ranking points.
Other than that, this is just another chance to shift up through the gears.
“It’s in the back of everyone’s minds that this is an Olympic year. For me it is more about stepping it up to another level rather than changing anything else ... You know what’s at the end of it. It has worked before so why change it now?”