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'When people introduce me as that, I'm just like, 'Head down' - I hate all that kind of stuff'

Phil Healy paints the picture of her athletics journey, touching on her relationship with her fellow sprinter sister Joan and how the title ‘Ireland’s fastest woman’ sits with her.

IRELAND’S FASTEST WOMAN. 

It’s a title Phil Healy has earned over the past few years, but not one she’s overly fond of.

phil-healy-after-the-race Ireland sprint sensation Phil Healy. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Currently holding the 100m and 200m Irish national records though, it’s something you can’t but call the Cork speedster. Wearing a smile from ear-to-ear and displaying a positive attitude from the moment we meet, Healy’s modesty shines through brightest when this topic arises in conversation. 

The ‘Ireland’s fastest woman’ tag…how does that sit with you?

Is it a weird one?

In short, yes. 

“When people introduce me as that, I’m just like, ‘Head down,’” she concedes. “I hate all that kind of stuff.

“It is mad, but I just see myself as someone who goes out, ‘Yeah, I have 11.28…’ I don’t even think I have the national records, I go out thinking 11.28 is my PB, 22.99 is my PB. If I go out and run a faster time, yes it’s a national record, but to me it’s a PB. Do you know?

I don’t hang on that tag. I’m just there to go out and compete against the best that are out there, perform to my best, and if another national record or PB comes along the way, absolutely super.

“But it’s also a mark… 11.40 was the national record for so many years, and it has got everyone to step up their game. The amount of people that ran 11.40 or 11.30 last year within Ireland shows that people are able to do it, and it sets a new level. If it encourages the younger athletes to step it up, that’s all I want.

“Records are there to be broken so…”

25-year-old Healy knows all about it.

The story behind that 11.28 100m record is an incredible one. It was a summer evening in Santry, June 2018 to be precise, and Healy was taking the race as a “warm-up run” before the 400m, her main focus at the time. 

It just happened. 

She produced a blistering run to break the long-standing Irish sprinting record set by fellow Cork woman Ailis McSweeney in 2011, and equaled by Amy Foster a few years later.

Interestingly, McSweeney was a real role model for Healy growing up.

“She was always one that I looked to,” she smiles. “I used to be competing over 100m an awful lot then, she was the national record holder at the time.

ailis-mcsweeney Ailis McSweeney at the 2011 European Championships. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I remember going to a European Team Champs in 2013 and she was on the relay with me. She was just super supportive, she carried me through. I was really young at the time.

And even different times, when I had hard years, say in 2015, I used to always reach out to her and she was always a support. She was so approachable at all times, and was definitely someone I looked up to all the time.

So there was no bitterness when a certain someone came along and broke her record?

Healy giggles, before resuming her serious approach. 

“No, absolutely not,” the Bandon star insists. “She stepped away and she retired when I came onto the scene, later on. All the way up, she was there to support me. Any time that I had any difficulty, she would answer anything and was nothing but brilliant.”

Game recognises game.

Healy’s starting point in athletics was like most youngsters’: in the home. 

The wheels were set in motion by her older sister, Joan.

“I did camogie, soccer, football the whole way up,” Phil remembers, “and my sister Joan who is two years older than me, she was really quick.

“She was winning Community Games, School Sports, all those sort of things. She was encouraged to go to the athletics club, so I was following suit with her to keep her company.

I used to never make finals, I used to literally be dragged along with her. I gave up the other sports because I knew she was just going to be at athletics and it would just be easier for mam and dad to be travelling to the athletics events.

“She would have been at the Youths, the World Juniors, European Juniors at such a young age. Then she got a lot of injuries along the way and found it hard to make that transfer from junior to senior ranks.

“She would have taken that leap at a really young age, but I wouldn’t have had it until I was 17 or 18.”

Joan, who also represents Bandon AC, is flying it at the minute after overcoming her injury struggles — no more than Phil has, too — and her younger sister is keen to get that across.

There’s that modesty again. 

“She ran 7.31 [two weekends ago], which is an equal PB, and just one hundredths off the world 60m standard for the indoors,” Phil beams. 

gina-akpe-moses-phil-healy-joan-healy-and-ciara-neville-after-setting-a-new-national-record Phil and Joan (centre) at the 2018 European Championships. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Some fun it that house so?

“Absolutely,” the Waterford IT [WIT] Masters student laughs. “It’s good now that we’re both doing two different events! But even we had the national record in Berlin in the relay. She ran the first leg and I ran the second leg so it’s absolutely super to share it as well.

We do have that competitive aspect, but it gets us both to step it up and it’s easier then when I go to the 200 and she’s at the 100.

We got a lovely insight into the Healy household, actually, when Phil featured on RTÉ’s 2018 documentary series following five Irish sportswomen. 

We Run The World was a huge success, and gave a brilliant insight into Healy’s day-to-day life between training, her studies, her family and friends, the sacrifices made, and the sheer commitment and dedication it takes to be at the top of her game. 

The whole experience was “absolutely mad,” she enthuses, still almost in disbelief at the hours and hours of filming that were done for the 10-minute mini-documentary.

“To showcase female sport and for so many people to watch it and get an insight into what you actually do was absolutely super,” she continues. “It would have been an absolute bonus if it made television instead of just the RTÉ Player, just to showcase women’s sport.

I even asked the producer, ‘Would you do it again, and do it with men?’ They were like, ‘What’s the point because we already know who the men are, and we know their story.’ It was great, even just to share my story and for other people to see and watch it.

Healy’s sports psychologist shows it a lot in her lectures in WIT, while she’s also aware of it being screened in a number of schools across the length and breadth of the country.

“It’s great for young kids to see that it’s not always easy along the way,” she adds. “They get to see so many different sports. Even me watching the other girls, it was great to get an insight into their sports as well.”

While Healy is one of a number of athletes really flying the flag for Irish women’s sprinting — Rhasidat Adeleke, Gina Akpe-Moses and Ciara Neville are just three others who spring to mind — she’s proud to be a central part of the ever- rising scene. 

“It’s absolutely super, and especially at such a young age,” she notes when those names, and the quality of these rising stars are put to her. “Their challenge is going to be transferring from junior to senior.

“My first international was European Juniors in 2013 where I finished fourth. I was gutted to finish fourth, but say if I had to have got a medal at the competition, I may have taken a totally different path and may not have been as driven going forward.

“I never went to Youths, World Juniors or anything like that beforehand. In 2014, I went to European Seniors at only 18. It’s about transferring from those junior to senior ranks, and seeing that it isn’t a step if you’re able to do it.

It’s just another competition, you deserve to be there and that’s what you should be targeting. 

The environment the athlete is in, their support network and encouragement from others all help with the progression, but Healy states that mindset is important too.

aib-future-sparks-festival-launch Healy at the launch of the AIB Future Sparks Festival 2020. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

“To me, it’s just another competition no matter what the age group,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“Yes, the standards are definitely harder when you come to the senior ranks, and they’re making them harder along the way again, so it can discourage some athletes when they’re getting further away from them.

But it gets you to step it up, to be more driven and work harder, knowing that things aren’t just going to be handed to you and you have to actually work for it in this sport.

Work for it indeed, and that’s what she’s doing at the minute in this, an Olympic year.

Tokyo 2020 is just around the corner, and as much as it’s all about taking it step-by-step, it’s certainly the end goal. She’s opened her season at a blistering pace, and the only way is up from here, but qualification is the main thing at the minute. 

And just watching the Irish women’s hockey team get there before Christmas was a timely reminder of how much Phil Healy wants it. 

“The whole atmosphere and the buzz around them, seeing their emotion that they’re actually going to the Olympics now as a team, together,” she concludes with a smile, allowing her mind to wander for a few seconds before coming back down to earth.

“You actually have to do it individually, so I would be so driven myself and making all the sacrifices along the way. You definitely want to be on that path as well.”

Irish sprinter, Phil Healy was at the launch of the AIB Future Sparks Festival 2020, an innovative careers festival for senior cycle students, which is taking place on 26 March in the RDS. For more information, please visit www.AIB.ie/FutureSparks.

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Emma Duffy

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