Skeleton racer Brendan Doyle: 'It destroys your body, it costs an arm and a leg but, by God, it's too much fun for a human'

Not every elite Irish athlete will be bursting through the doors of their training base next week.
Skeleton racer Brendan Doyle: 'It destroys your body, it costs an arm and a leg but, by God, it's too much fun for a human'
Brendan Doyle hopes to at the Winter Olympics in 2022. Picture: Inpho

Not every elite Irish athlete will be bursting through the doors of their training base next week.

The government may be dropping the travel restrictions that kept 200 or so of our best sportspeople from their places of work but Covid-19 health and safety measures will mean that capacities fall far short of what they had been.

Brendan Doyle, training for a shot at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, has been asked to hold off on his return to the Sport Ireland Institute in Abbotstown for a number of weeks yet so it's a case of 'as you were' for the skeleton racer for now.

It's far from ideal but any Irishman competing in a winter sport is well able to adapt given the absence here of snow and ice.

Training during lockdown has involved the use of wheelie bins, the boot of his car, the local park and his front wall. And that's just the parts captured on his Twitter feed. What we haven't been shown are the countless practise runs done indoors.

Doyle uses a virtual reality headset and a point-of-view video of skeleton runs from tracks across the world to mimic the process of flying down the chute while lying on his 30kg sled. It's a form of muscle memory and he does up to 40 a day to stay connected to the sport.

“I play the video of the track and I mimic the movements,” he explains from his house in Beaumont. “It's kind of like when you watch Cool Runnings and they are all in the bath going left and right. It's the same idea but I get a bit more feedback from the video.”

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All told, he could be a full year off the track by the time things right themselves. That's far from ideal for a 34-year already fighting the odds to make his Olympic dream come true in a sport that empties your wallet like a pickpocket.

“It's basically Formula 1 on ice,” he says. The sled costs €10,000, each of the runners, the 'legs' that support it, come in at €600 a pop and they have a limited shelf life. All told, it costs him a minimum of €25,000 a year to keep this show on the road.

There is no Sport Ireland grant. An Olympic solidarity fund has been crucial and the Harris Group on Dublin's Naas Road helped him out with a car that got him around Europe last season. Among the drives undertaken was a mammoth 29-hour trip from Dublin to Lillehammer.

[timgcapBrendan Doyle hopes to at the Winter Olympics in 2022. Picture: Inpho]BrendanDoyleSkelletonRacerInpho20a_large.jpg[/timgcap]

Sponsorship has been key. Every euro of his savings has been ploughed into the venture and the only real relief from his worries about the finances involved and the coming recession seems to be the three hours he spends training most days.

It is a concern that has kept him up at night but past traumas have armed him with coping mechanisms. Doyle suffered serious hand injuries as a Garda when called out to a domestic dispute in 2009. He was ultimately diagnosed with PTSD while insomnia has been a battle all of its own.

“As part of my post-traumatic growth I was given this ability to see the positive and to be able to compartmentalise things, to not let the bigger picture weigh me down. Making today better is all I can do. It still doesn't take away the fear and the worry.

What it does do is it give me the ability to control something and take a positive step. That gets me one step closer. It is a gift what happened to me. It has taken me a long time to say that but I am thankful because it has revealed a lot about myself and I can carry that forward to this and for the rest of my life.

You could play Devil's Advocate here and suggest that he could save himself an awful lot of bother by walking away and moving on with the rest of that life. He could be done with the airports, the financial stress, the two stone he loses in a season and the risks of injury and concussion.

Then again, how else would he get to feel that 6 Gs of pressure as he zooms along at anything up 145km per hour? How else does he make the Olympics which evaded him by just one qualifying place in 2018? Doyle already knows what it's like to live without the skeleton. He gave up the sport once before because of funding issues.

“Between 2003 and 2016 all I could think about was the sport,” he says. “I missed it. I even bought a motorbike to get that same feeling of flow and adrenalin. It destroys your body, it costs an arm and a leg but, by God, it's amazing. It's too much fun for a human.”

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