Photo via British Athletics/Getty Images
By John Greechan
All being well, Eilidh Doyle will be getting fitted for another full Team GB Olympic Games outfit at some stage in 2021. Few things inspire more pride than the thought of pulling on the uniform and competing in Tokyo.
But there’s another item clothing that means just as much to the multiple medallist. Something that connects her with the local club where she’s still a member.
‘For me, whenever I compete at the British or Scottish Championships, I always wear my Pitreavie AAC vest,’ said Eilidh.
‘And I think that’s important, maintaining that link. A lot of athletes will go for their GB vest, which is special, but I always make sure it’s the Pitreavie colours.
‘I want young people watching to think: ‘Oh, she runs for the same club as me.’
‘It’s why you always see Eilish McColgan with her Dundee Hawkhill vest, all the boys with their Edinburgh AC vests.
‘It’s important because we all started at these clubs as youngsters. It becomes more achievable for youngsters if they can see someone who has progressed to that level.’
Eilidh with son Campbell last year (phot0 courtesy of James Glossop of The Times)
Doyle, a successful 400 metres hurdler and vital member of the British 4×400 relay team, is passionate about grassroots sport as a method of improving the physical and emotional health of the nation.
Grateful to every volunteer who ever gave up time to organise a session or tidy up equipment, the new(ish) mum – son Campbell is just over a year now – still speaks fondly of her own introduction to organised athletics.
‘I got into it via my big sister but quickly built up a large group of friends,’ she recalled, adding: ‘The social side is what got me into it, what hooked me.
‘Not being able to do that now is hard for the young athletes. Yes, you can replicate training. Yes, you can be adaptable.
‘But the really sad thing is you’re not getting that social group, all training together. I really feel for the youngsters in that respect.
‘I started at Pitreavie and I’m still a member, I was nine when I went there because my big sister had won a cross-country race with the school and got invited along.
‘I just tagged along to keep her company, enjoyed it and that’s how I started out. I’ve stayed there ever since.’
Eilidh receives her Lifetime Achievement award from Pitreavie AAC from Graham McDonald (photo courtesy of Campbell McNair)
‘They had a really good system where you came into the club, the youngsters worked with two coaches and you could try everything.
‘There was a good pathway progression from the fun social side to more specific, more direction towards the event you had chosen to do – or fallen into because you were good at it!
‘And a lot of the hook was competitions. Having races week in, week out gave you an experience that you could enjoy.
‘I was invited back to Pitreavie’s awards last year. No, it was 2019 – I’ve lost a year!
‘Normally I’m down south when they have their awards night but I was actually home, for obvious reasons, and was so pleased to go along.
‘And they gave me a lifetime achievement reward, which was a surprise.
‘What was really great was handing out trophies that had my name on them. That’s nice for younger athletes, seeing where you’ve started and how you’ve progressed.’
Eilidh celebrates British title success in 2017 en route to the World Champs in London (photo via British Athletics/Getty Images)
With the exception of marathon runners, most of whom accept a degree of lonely isolation as a necessary effect of the mileage they need to cover, most athletes tend to be pretty sociable types.
There’s an energy about training groups, a healthy competition that drives standards.
While elite competitors have been able to maintain some of that camaraderie, the realities of lockdown have denied a lot of club runners – of all ages – access to a vital part of their lives.
‘The last few weeks, there hasn’t been anyone there when I’ve been at the Emirates Arena,’ said Doyle, who has been training once a week in Glasgow and recently also received access to the facilities at Grangemouth.
‘Campbell’s been running up and down the track while I’ve been training, which has been nice for him. But it is hard training on your own – it is better with others around.
‘So people will have missed that and want to get back to that, whenever all of this is over – although there will be some who have lost their feeling for it.
‘If the essence of the sport is always there, hopefully young athletes will come back to it.
‘We have to remind them of what it’s all about and how good it is. And, of course, a bit of success at the top always drives participation, definitely.
‘The volunteers do it because they have that passion and love for the sport. And there will be kids dying to get back. But there will be an impact.’
Photo by Bobby Gavin
Doyle, who joined our Board a couple of years ago, is obviously deeply embedded in her sport.
Ask about the prospect of one day moving into coaching, though, and she sounds less than excited by the possibility.
But the 33-year-old also commits the fatal mistake of every parent everywhere, leaving the door open to some kind of involvement should young Campbell develop an interest. That’s how they get you, right?
Right now, she’s focused on trying to make it to her third Olympic Games. Assuming they go ahead.
‘I just want to put myself in the position to qualify for Tokyo,’ said Doyle. ‘To be ready to race, be in good enough shape to make the team.
‘We weren’t going to do indoors anyway because I’m not in any shape to do myself any justice.
‘I kind of started back training in September, as if it was a full winter. After having Campbell and then Covid hitting, I didn’t really train specifically for anything, just tried to get my body back from having a baby.
‘We had some Emirates Arena access and now at Grangemouth. It’s just great to get the spikes on and get some hurdles out.’
The joy of just running, with or without obstacles to be cleared. still inspires Doyle to push herself.
It all started, as these stories so often do, with a decision to chum her sister along to the local athletics club. Where she was welcomed, encouraged and nurtured.
In the years since, she’s been a leading light in Scottish and British athletics – and even a poster girl for Glasgow 2014.
Plus, when she’s wearing those navy-white-and-lime-green colours with pride, a pretty good ambassador for the enduring importance of grassroots sport.
*Article reproduced with thanks to Scottish Daily Mail
Tags: Eilidh Doyle