IRISH sprint star Joan Healy has scrapped her summer season and won’t run competitively again until 2022.
The Ballineen athlete is recovering from a foot injury that ruined her dreams of qualifying for this summer’s Olympic Games and she has decided against rushing back to race this summer.
‘The end of 2020 and start of 2021 has been really difficult. It has been one of my most difficult years in the sport so I want to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch again,’ Healy told the Star Sport Podcast.
Last winter she missed a huge chunk of training from September until mid-December when a niggle in her foot was diagnosed as Plantar fasciitis. She recovered in time to race in the 60 metres at the European Indoors in Torun in early March and was on track to run the final leg for the Irish women’s 4x100m relay team at the World Relays in Poland in early May – a top-eight finish there would have qualified the Irish team for the Olympics.
But a few weeks out from the World Relays, disaster struck.
While she was warming up for a training session in March Healy felt a little pinch in her Achilles. She had never had any trouble with her Achilles before. Initially, it was diagnosed as tightness in her calf leading into the Achilles and that was causing irritation. She traces it back to training on a ‘softer’ local track.
‘I had an Irish team relay session that weekend and the physios there had a look at it, they confirmed it was the Achilles but that it could settle down fairly quickly, in the space of a week, if I just unloaded it and concentrated on some rehab work. So I did that,’ Healy says.
‘My day-to-day symptoms had cleared up and by the time when I was to get back running – and I had gradually built the speed up and got into the spikes again – I had been selected for World Relays as part of the 4x100m team.
‘The week before I was to head to a camp for the World Relays I had to pull up in a training session. I got a sharp ripple down the inside of my Achilles. At that point not only was I struggling with training, but I was struggling with walking around and just basic day-to-day movement.’
That foot injury ruled the 28-year-old out of the World Relays – and denied her the chance to fight for a place at the Tokyo Olympics. Healy didn’t want to take any risks because if her Achilles snapped while she was at full speed, it’s potentially career-ending. She had to sit out the World Relays.
‘It was so disappointing, especially coming off the winter that I had, the Plantar fasciitis in the same foot and I had missed so much time on the track,’ she explains.
‘Because of Covid we knew we were never going to be in a situation like this again where we would have such a good opportunity of qualifying for the Olympics. The top eight from the previous World Championships in Doha in 2019 had already qualified, and it was the top eight in Poland to qualify – so if you made the final you were going to the Olympics.
‘As the time came closer we had heard that a lot of the bigger teams weren’t risking travelling to the World Relays so there were only going to be 14 teams and that was a massive opportunity to qualify.’
Without Healy, the Irish women’s 4x100m relay team of Molly Scott, Sarah Lavin, Kate Doherty and Sarah Quinn finished fourth in their semi-final and missed out on the final and the Olympics by 0.28 seconds. Their performance, however, has earned them a place at next year’s World Championships in Oregon.
‘It was massively disappointing to be sitting at home and wishing I could have been there – and who knows what the outcome might have been,’ says Healy. Her mood wasn’t helped when she learned that if her injury had been diagnosed when it first occurred in March, then she would have had a fighting chance of racing at the World Relays.
Healy only met with the specialist last Tuesday week. He informed her that she had suffered a small tear on her Plantaris, a tendon next to the Achilles. Because of inflammation in the area it caused the two tendons to rub against each other which gave Healy her Achilles pain.
‘Unfortunately, the (diagnosing) process was ridiculously slow,’ Healy says.
‘People expect us to be out there competing with the best in the world and when you are in a high-performance situation you shouldn’t be waiting for things like that.
‘When I eventually got my MRI results back, I found out about the injury. The treatment is a high volume injection where they fill up the area with fluid and it separates out the tendons a little bit so they stop causing friction against each other. There is a little steroid injection to get rid of any inflammation in the area.
‘When I heard that was the treatment, that drove the knife in a little bit deeper and twisted it.
‘Considering there was an Olympic qualification at stake, if I was put into an MRI machine on day one when I had those symptoms – and at the stage when the symptoms started we had a good four or five weeks to World Relays – and if I could have been diagnosed earlier and had the injection, I possibly would have been on the team. That was even more disappointing.’
Instead, Healy missed out. She was gutted. The last few weeks have been particularly hard as she was targeting qualifying for the Games in Tokyo alongside her younger sister Phil. Now, she will be Phil’s biggest fan here at home.
Joan is still waiting for that injection and once she gets that, she has to take two weeks off training, but then she can start planning ahead for 2022. She wants to get a head start with ‘winter’ preparation in June as she looks ahead to next year.
‘If I didn’t have that foot injury in the winter, I probably would have continued with my 2021 outdoor season,’ she explains.
‘But having missed so much time on the track I don’t have enough of the work, of the speed endurance, enough of the volume done to be able to take myself competitively over 100 metres. I could go out and run 11.6 or 11.7 but I don’t want to run that. I want to go out, stand on the start-line, know I have all the work done and am confident I can produce a good performance. At the moment I am not in that place.
‘I want to get in that volume of work that I missed last winter. There are areas I want to improve on. In a way it’s exciting. I am going to be making some changes this summer. It’s exciting to see how that works out.’
Next year looks packed already. There are the 2022 World Indoor Championships in Belgrade where Healy is targeting 60-metre qualification. The Irish 4x100m relay team has qualified for the World Championships in Oregon and she wants her place back on that team, and wants to race there in an individual event, too. The same applies to the outdoor European Championships in Munich. There’s a lot to aim for and that’s why she is looking forward to getting back on track and putting her recent injury nightmare behind her.