| 10.5°C Dublin

Luge success Olympic hopeful Brendan Doyle talks about his battle with suicidal thoughts and PSTD after being stabbed

A man wielding a knife inflicted life-changing injuries to the thumb and baby finger on his right hand.

Close

Brendan has high hopes for the Winter Olympics.

Brendan has high hopes for the Winter Olympics.

Brendan discovered he loved the sport.

Brendan discovered he loved the sport.

Brendan Doyle

Brendan Doyle

The former sprinter found his skills fit the ice.

The former sprinter found his skills fit the ice.

Brendan has been a success since taking up the skeleton.

Brendan has been a success since taking up the skeleton.

/

Brendan has high hopes for the Winter Olympics.

Brendan Doyle once stood on the edge of the platform in Malahide Dart station waiting to jump in front of the next train.

Haunted by an incident in which he had been stabbed, he had suffered from severe post-traumatic stress for years.

"I wasn't having an exceptionally bad day. I just woke up saying 'I'm doing this'. It was as nonchalant as like 'oh, there's no milk in the fridge'.

"When you are experiencing mental health issues your train of thought is skewed. So, in my head, I felt I had tried everything.

"I felt there was no chance of like a better outcome. My only way to stop living with this storm was to take my life."

While waiting for a train he overheard a young girl telling her mother how much she was looking forward to their day out together. The sense of joyful anticipation in her voice saved his life.

He stepped back from the edge of the platform, walked out of the station, and drove to his friend Donal's house. They went to the Tesco Shopping Centre in Artane.

"I don' recall too much about the day now but I do remember we were beside the aisle where the apples and peppers were when I said to him, 'I'm just after trying to kill myself. I'm telling you this now because I need to be held accountable.'

"Initially he laughed, and I was like 'No, I'm serious.' He turned around and called me an idiot. Then he bought some Maltesers, we went back to his house and talked.

Close

Brendan discovered he loved the sport.

Brendan discovered he loved the sport.

Brendan discovered he loved the sport.

Painful

"I was very lucky. Something as simple as having to stop at a red light and I wouldn't be here now. It's just insane. It gives me the chills now when I think about it."

He didn't recover overnight and part of the process involved him making the painful decision to walk away from his career as a Garda.

Along the journey he stumbled upon a new purpose in life which could see him compete at next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing.

It's not a pipe dream. He missed qualifying for the skeleton at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in 2018 by one place. With 11 months to go to the 2022 Games he believes he has made a quantum leap forward.

He sacrificed Christmas and the vagaries of the Covid-19 pandemic to spend three months training on the Utah Olympic Park track which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, where Ireland's Sir Clifton Wrottesley famously finished fourth in the skeleton.

Hurtling down a frozen track at speeds of up to 145 kilometres hour while lying prone on a sled weighting 70 pounds and measuring 31 inches long and 18 wide is the ultimate adrenalin rush.

But the sport is prohibitively expensive, particularly for a lone ranger like Doyle.

He has sunk his life-savings into pursing his dream.

The trip to Utah cost €14,000 - he spent $3,000 on car rental alone because he had to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle to access Utah Olympic Park.

His sled costs €6,000, plus an additional £2,000 annually for the runners it needs. The protective suit he wears costs €500, and he needs three a year, while his specialist shoes, which have 400 individual spikes, retail at between €400 and €500 a pair.

He is the recipient of an International Olympic Committee solidarity grant as well as a Team Ireland Winter Olympic scholarship, and support from FBD enabled him to pay for the specialist coaching he received in Utah from Australian Olympian John Farrow.

During the trip Doyle secured three podium finishes in the North American Cup. His times - based on two runs ‑- were faster than those achieved by American Jim Shea on the same run when he won the gold medal in the Winter Olympics in 2002.

"It was phenomenal to get on the podium. There were regional races, but my times would have put me in the top six in the last World Cup race which was staged in Park City. It really shows that next season I'm ready to compete, not just to take part." The Olympic qualification process begins in the autumn.

Now 35, Doyle was raised in Beaumont on Dublin's northside. His first sporting love was soccer, but he discovered he could sprint when introduced to athletics by his history teacher John Shields at St David's secondary school. He joined Raheny Shamrock AC and competed in sprints and the long jump. His introduction to snow sports was less conventional.

One night he was doing tricep dips in the gymnasium in Santry Stadium when somebody knocked on the window and asked him outside. A fledging Irish bobsleigh squad was training, and they invited him to push a sled.

His knowledge of the sport had been primarily gleaned from the movie Cool Runnings. He knew, however, that sprinters can successfully make the transition to ice.

"The sprint at the start of the run is where everything is won and lost so the idea is to get somebody who is naturally fast and teach them how to drive [the sled] as opposed to having somebody who is a very good driver but has to be taught to sprint."

Within weeks Doyle, who was still in his teens, was in Austria for his initiation on the ice.

"I was taken to the top of the track and some Austrian guy with a broom, pushed me off the top saying 'bye, bye, Ireland.' I hit every single wall on the way down. I destroyed myself but at the end I had such a stupid smile on my face. I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do."

But before he could make any impact, the funding available to the Irish Bobsleigh Skeleton Federation was cut and Doyle focussed instead on his dream career as a Garda.

Close

Brendan Doyle

Brendan Doyle

Brendan Doyle

Violent

His first full-time posting was to Sundrive Garda Station on Dublin's southside. Three weeks into the job the 20-year-old rookie turned up for night duty one nondescript Thursday evening. "I didn't even get to go my sergeant for a briefing. I was told to grab my gear, get into a car and I would be briefed on the way."

The gardai had been called to a domestic incident nearby.

A man wielding a knife inflicted life-changing injuries to the thumb and baby finger on his right hand. A colleague took him to the nearby St James's Hospital for treatment. He was home in his parents house by 4am. He went to bed and slept soundly.

Nearly a decade passed before he slept properly again. "The next night I had really vivid and violent dreams and I woke up thinking that my hand was still bleeding. From then on I didn't want to go to sleep because I was waking up in terror."

The Gardai provided counselling, through his GP he was referred to a psychologist and he went on antidepressants. But his descent into a personal hell continued.

A long-term relationship he was in ended and his running career stalled. It all culminated in the fateful incident at Malahide Dart Station.

After he resigned from the Guards in 2015, he started working in Elverys Sports Store in Suffolk Street, proving an able running shoe salesman.

A friend, Jenny Corcoran, persuaded him to start focussing on athletics again and the Bobsleigh Federation relaunched their programme.

Before long Doyle was googling a website looking to buy a sled. Six years on, the Olympics dream beckons Doyle to sleep soundly eight hours every night.

  • For more information about Brendan Doyle's career or to donate to a fund to defray his expenses he can be contacted via slidingirish.com

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Online Editors


Privacy