The Irish born swimming phenom Fiona Doyle has been making waves lately. She is best known for breaking the Canadian Interuniversity Sport and Irish national records for the 100-metre breaststroke, and also for winning a silver medal at the World University Games.
Doyle cleaned up at last weekend’s Canada West championships. She was named an all-star at the competition and won a total of six medals. These included winning gold in the 50-metre breaststroke, silver in the 100-metre and 200-metre breaststroke, silver in the 4x100-metre and 4x200-metre medley and freestyle relay respectively and bronze in the 50-metre freestyle.
Despite all of her recent success, Doyle comes from humble beginnings. Coming from a typical middle-class background, her father was an electrician and her mother was an accountant. Like many athletes, Doyle had supportive parents. Even though both had jobs to go to in the morning, they still took their budding international swim star to the pool every morning so she could get in her two hours of training before school.
Eventually, Doyle was recruited to the University of Calgary by an international scout. Doyle was attracted to Calgary because prior Olympians had been in the program. When Doyle was offered a scholarship, she jumped at the chance to compete for the Dinos and never looked back.
“It was the best decision I have ever made,” said Doyle.
During her early years of university, Doyle had always aspired to break through a threshold that she knew would carry her onto greatness. Doyle broke through last year when she broke the CIS record and Irish national record for the 100-metre breaststroke.
“My first year was good, but I knew it was never as good as I could be,” said Doyle. “My second year I was just chipping away at it. I had big aspirations, but I was just missing them. Eventually, to go on and win the gold medal at the CIS championships last year was really great, and then to go on and qualify for the World University Games and win a silver medal there was amazing.”
Those who succeed in competitive sport often have a burning desire to win at all costs. Doyle has a competitive edge that has always been ingrained in her.
“Ever since I was young I have always wanted to be better than other people,” said Doyle. “However, I am not as intense anymore. Now that I have gotten older I try to express that through my actions as opposed to saying it to people and being cocky.”
That same competitive edge was fostered by growing up around her competitive family.
“Growing up with my twin, she was pretty competitive too,” said Doyle of her early years. “We were always placing one and two at meets. As much as we hated when the other twin would win, we did not want anyone else to win.”
When it comes down to actually performing in the pool, Doyle’s focus borders on obsession, and sometimes she needs a friendly reminder from her coach as to why she began swimming in the first place.
“I am not focusing on what other people are doing, but on what I need to do,” says Doyle of her mindset during a race. “Coach will go over the game plan and remind me to have fun. Sometimes I get caught up in the process and I don't enjoy the actual race.”
No athlete’s career is complete without pitfalls. For Doyle, not making the 2012 Summer Olympics in London was a major disappointment.
“I missed out by less than half a second and that was a sore point,” said Doyle. “That summer was not very fun for me. I went to Europeans and bombed, and I just wanted to stop swimming for the summer. I physically could not stomach watching the Olympics.”
Despite this road bump, Doyle eventually managed to turn it into an important learning experience.
“It was not until my parents sat me down, and made me realize that although I did not make it to the Olympics there was things I could do to change and get better,” said Doyle. “For example, choosing to stay home and do homework and get more sleep instead of going out with friends was something I could do. As a result, I dropped two full seconds in my time and I went from being ranked in the top 50 in the world to being ranked 15th in the world.”
Looking back, Doyle attributes this low point in her career to her new found focus to be the best she can possibly be in all aspects of her life.
“Although it was a really sore point, as making the Olympics is my ultimate goal, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me,” said Doyle. “It was the fuel for me to get my ass in gear and figure my shit out and make swimming my top priority. As a result, I also had my best grades of my time at university.”
Moving to a completely new country can be daunting, and not knowing anyone beforehand can be even worse. Doyle attributes some of her success to her social network that supported her when she first arrived on maple leaf soil.
“The advantage for me was that I had a core group of people who I developed a good relationship with — I was going into university with friends,” said Doyle. “Aspects of varsity sports teaches you life skills like time management that I would not have learned anywhere else.”
Doyle is currently completing a bachelors of kinesiology in pedagogy at the University of Calgary. After graduation, Doyle plans to take a full year and do nothing but train for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
On a different note, because of her background in pedagogy, Doyle has some reliable advice for new swimmers.
“Just stick with it. It gets easier and easier,” says Doyle. “You will notice improvements within a week. I thinks it is a basic life skill. I think it is amazing how many people cannot swim in Canada. It shocks me.”
Lastly, Doyle has some advice to the Dinos faithful.
“Come out and support swimmers,” says Doyle. “I know it’s not the most fun sport to watch but we really do appreciate it. We do work hard for it. People like to watch the Olympics and some of us might be at them.”