By Emilie Medland-Marchen, July 26 2016 —
After narrowly missing out on the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympic Games, former Dinos swimmer Fiona Doyle is headed to Rio de Janeiro to compete for the Irish national team at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games from August 5–21. Doyle swam for the University of Calgary Dinos throughout her undergraduate degree and earned the title of CIS Academic All-Canadian while training full time. This week she sat down with the Gauntlet to discuss the highlights of her time in Calgary, her excitement for the Olympic Games and how she managed to come back stronger than ever after facing disappointment in 2012.
The Gauntlet: Can you tell me about your career as a swimmer so far? How did you get to this point where you’ve made the summer Olympic team?
D: My whole dad’s side of the family swam. My granddad started a beginner swim club in my hometown back in Ireland. We were just put into swimming more as a life lesson than anything else.
At about 12 years of age I was watching the Athens Olympics and decided that I was going to go. I didn’t know what it took to get there, but knew that it was a big deal and that it wasn’t going to be easy, but if I swam fast, I could go. I decided I was going to go to the Olympics. I actually told my parents then and there that I should take a year off school so I could train for the Olympics, and they sort of politely laughed and said, “You have to go to school.”
G: You almost qualified for the Olympics twice before. Can you tell me about coming back from that and how you regained your focus?
D: In 2008 that was a little bit easier because I was young and kind of knew it was an outside chance of me qualifying. So it wasn’t as difficult, and I was still in school so it made it a lot easier. But not making 2012 — I was absolutely devastated. I didn’t even want to watch the games that year. I felt like I deserved to go and it was unfair. I tended to blame everybody but myself. It was really tough. I didn’t want to swim that summer but I was kind of forced into it and I was very negative and didn’t know how to get out of that hole.
If it wasn’t for my family, I’m not sure if I would still be swimming. They sat me down and told me that things needed to change — I was giving maybe 85 per cent and in fact I needed to give 100 per cent if I wanted to go to the Olympics. It doesn’t just get handed to you, you have to work for it. I thought more about it and realized there was a lot I could’ve done better. And I think I’m in a better position now than I would have been in 2012.
G: Why did you choose to attend the U of C rather than a university in Europe for your swim career?
D: I’d looked into the [United] States to train, and I decided against it because it usually goes one of two ways — it goes really, really well, or it doesn’t. And I know too many cases of it not going well. I felt like if I was going to move from home then it had to work. I was still looking to qualify for the Olympics and at the time I was making the decision I knew I couldn’t afford for it not to go well and lose a year of training. U of C offered me a program, and I sort of knew the coaches and I knew about the background that U of C had with athletes. It seemed like an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
G: Are there any highlights from your time at the U of C?
D: Every CIS [event] is so much fun. In my first year we actually won CIS and that was amazing. We had a full girl’s team and a full men’s team. Both teams won it, and it was just fantastic to be in that environment. It was so much fun, getting to experience college and particularly because I didn’t know anybody, coming into a family.
G: You were recognized as a CIS Academic All-Canadian during your time here. How do you balance such an outstanding swimming career with student life?
D: I struggled a lot in first year. Even though we speak the language in Ireland, it’s still quite different. I would look at exams and know sort of what they were talking about, but because the [English] was different, I wasn’t confident in what I was doing and I probably slacked a lot more than I should have. I picked it up a lot in third year, partly because my
scholarship depended on it. Going into third year after 2012 when I made the decision to become a better swimmer and a better athlete, I realized I couldn’t do that without also being a good student. In order for swimming to go well, I had to put school ahead of everything else. I made the decision to make those two my priorities. As a result I felt like my training and my schooling went hand in hand.
G: What is your approach to training? What do you do differently than other athletes?
D: I’m very driven. When I show up to a workout I give 100 per cent all the time. I don’t like excuses. So not showing up for a workout for me is not an option. I don’t think there should be excuses. Every time a workout is on the board, I give it my all. I’m always looking to do better than before. I want to be the best so I try to train as the best.
G: What are you most excited for in Rio?
D: In one sense, it’s coming too fast. It seemed so far away in 2012, but it seems like it’s coming too fast now. And I don’t really want it to end, so I wish it were a little further away. It’s possibly the end of my swimming career, so I’m just looking forward to celebrating that fact — getting to go to the Olympics and be surrounded by a bunch of elite athletes and see how other sports work, how other athletes function. I’m excited to realize my dream, to stand up on the blocks and give it my all.
G: Can you explain what it feels like reaching such a high level of sport and what it takes to get to that point?
D: It’s a lot of sacrifice. I think if you had told me at 12 years of age what it really took to get to where I am today, I wouldn’t have jumped at the chance so quickly. I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot about myself, and I’ve become a much better person than I think I would have been without swimming and this journey. But you sacrifice a lot. There’s a lot of heartbreak and tears, and it’s a hard journey.
Not getting to go [in] 2012 was absolutely devastating to me. I felt like I deserved it because I had given up so much, but thankfully [now] I’m in the position that I get to go. But there’s a lot of people that don’t. There’s a lot of people that train their butts off every single day and don’t get to this level. And I think sometimes I tend to forget how much of an honour it is. I’ve always been goal-orientated and I think about what’s next, and sometimes I forget and take it for granted how much it takes to get to this elite level.
G: If you had one piece of advice for young athletes trying to make it to the Olympics, what would that be?
D: Enjoy the process. I know people say that all the time, but if you’re not happy it’s going to be 10 times harder. If you enjoy the process, no matter what happens you’re going to be proud of yourself.
Edited for clarity and brevity.