Philip Doyle took a bit of stick for an interview he gave to BBC Northern Ireland last December.
A World Championship silver medallist alongside Ronan Byrne in the double sculls only two months earlier had confirmed the pair’s candidacy for a podium finish at the Olympics but then the Banbridge man said that success in Tokyo wasn’t the “be all and end all”.
It’s a take that even his own coaches struggled with but it’s one that has aged particularly well with the Games put back a year due to a global pandemic and Doyle having returned to work as a doctor in Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry for the foreseeable future.
“I just had people saying to me: ‘Oh, so you don’t want to go to the Olympics, do you?’ A lot of athletes said they actually enjoyed that outlook on it and it took a lot of pressure off them to say: ‘Oh, you don’t need a medal to be successful in what you’re doing’.”
Doyle has never tried to hide the order of his priorities. Medicine comes first and rowing second but that doesn’t mean he can’t give everything possible to achieving his goals in both fields, even in the midst of the worst health crisis the world has seen in a century.
He had been beavering away at the National Rowing Centre in Cork, his medical studies and work experience put to one side so that he could devote himself to the Olympics, but he was back home in Down within a week of the shutdown and donning his scrubs.
His days sound exhausting. His nights, too. Doyle starts a run of red-eye shifts today which will turn his schedule on its head. Sleep will be restricted to four or five snatched hours from late morning to late afternoon. Around it will be two training sessions and his duties in hospital.
It’s a punishing regime exacerbated by the protocols brought on by Covid-19.
Extra time has to be allowed to don the scrubs and PPE equipment which stay on until its time to clock off. A utility room in the garage back home has become a type of sterilisation space where he can change again and wash in order to safeguard his family from infection.
Dehydration is a particular problem on the wards and accessing food isn’t always easy. It’s hardly surprising then that training can be a stretch sometimes, although he reckons he has been able to complete 80-90% of the work set for him by his coaches despite everything.
“There’s days when things happen in work and you just can’t [train]. Last week, I had a horrific week. We had the police called to the ward a few times. We had [patient] arrest calls, three, four in the day. I got back after a 13-hour shift and I was supposed to do a pretty hard session.
“I did three kilometres on rowing machine, put the handles down and did a bit of stretching and a few weights, came inside and sat down and watched a movie for a while with my mum. It was just one of those days where I had to listen to my body and hit it harder the next day.”
He didn’t have to do this.
He could have bunkered down in Cork, continued on with his rowing. He knows plenty of medical workers, friends, who have contracted Covid-19 and returned to work but his only doubt when coming back was not the potential dangers but the fact he hadn’t practised medicine in some time.
“It’s like your marital vows,” he reasoned. “In sickness and in health. This is the sickness part of the healthcare system. This is when you have to step up and do your bit.”