Phil Healy stood on the track and extended her hand, waving to her track teammate to hand over the baton. By the third lap of the 4×400 relay, the University College Cork women’s team was fifth and almost a quarter of a lap behind the leader.
So when Healy grabbed the baton, she started off at a modest jog, not expecting to be able to catch the fastest runners from the other colleges, including one athlete who is bound for Rio de Janeiro this summer to represent Ireland in the 2016 Olympics.
But as Healy kept running she noticed that she began to gain ground on the head of the pack. She accelerated and hit a gear she didn’t think she had. After a half a lap she was still fifth, but not for long.
“With 130 meters to go I was like yeah, I’m feeling good they are not that far ahead of me, let’s get third place,” Healy told The Post.
The Irish announcers suddenly noticed Healy speeding by her competitors.
“UCC from the depths of hell are powering through,” an announcer said.
Then as Healy rounded the bend her stride lengthened and into the home stretch she felt her legs glide underneath her with ease. She noticed that she didn’t yet feel the familiar burn of the lactic acid in her muscles.
“I thought yeah I’m feeling really good I might as well kick,” Healy said. “I thought, Jeez, I can go a bit further.”
In the final straightaway Healy came in three-wide and zoomed past the other straggling runners. She raised her arms through the finish line, crossing barely a second ahead of respected Irish runner Michelle Finn. The announcers at the meet went wild, squealing with delight at Healy’s unlikely victory. Healy herself was surprised by the win and tripped just steps after the finish line, face-planting into the rubber track.
“AHHHHH! IT’S UNBELIEVABLE. THAT IS UNBELIEVABLE,” one of announcers yelled. “PHIL HEALY. WHAT. A. RUN.”
Videos capturing Healy’s stunning finish have spread through social media and gone viral. Healy said that her win on Saturday has brought her newfound celebrity as reporters have been calling her from around the globe.
Healy said that “momentum and adrenaline” helped her fly by her opponents.
“I didn’t think I could do it myself,” Healy said. “Even other athletes were like, Jeez, where did you pull that out of?”
What’s more, the 4×400 was Healy’s third race of the day. Earlier in the meet she finished second in the 100 meter and won the 200 meter race, setting an Irish university record time. She said that her coach decided she should run the last leg of the 400 in order to time her at the longer distance. She lined up for the 4×400 only 20 minutes after finishing the 200 meter race.
But instead of taking off at a hard pace like her coach told her, Healy started conservatively and only began to pick up speed when she saw the other racers coming into view. She finished her lap in 54 seconds.
“It was a huge confidence boost,” Healy said.
She began running around age 11 and dedicated herself to it full time by 16. She raced in junior championships and earned attention for her prodigious speed. Healy, 21, grew up outside of Cork and turned down offers to run for American colleges in Michigan, Colorado, Louisiana and New York to stay close to home and attend UCC. She is currently studying nursing and plans to graduate in 2019.
“I have to balance commitments with training full time and studying full time and it can be hard,” Healy said, noting that she has a research paper due.
For now, Healy has her sights set on the European track championships in July in Amsterdam. Despite calls from reporters, she’s still grounded and getting ready for her next races.
“The show goes on,” Healy said. “Now back to training.”