Inspiring the future: Brendan Hyland
IT just so happens that Brendan Hyland, an Olympic swimmer, spent his fundamental years living across the road from a swimming pool.
Some might say its faith, luck or whatever else.
But like Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”.
That’s Brendan. He just so happened to live directly across from a swimming pool, which kickstarted a lifelong journey to achieve the ultimate goal of reaching the Olympics.
What you don’t see is the endless number of hours that the now 27-year-old invested to get there.
There was absolutely no chance involved in Brendan reaching the heights he has.
Growing up across from Tallaght Sports Complex, the swimming pool in Balrothery, Hyland enrolled in swimming lessons at the age of three and immediately, people took notice of his work ethic and natural ability.
“I started swimming lessons when I was three-years-old, I don’t think they even let kids do lessons now until they’re four,” Hyland says over the phone, sitting in his car outside DCU Sports Complex, where he is Head Swim Coach.
“It’s funny, I remember when I was about four, the swimming instructor had us doing lengths in the pool.
“We were supposed to be doing the front crawl kick, I think.
“I had been watching a film on the telly or something, and instead of doing the front crawl kick, I was doing this big dolphin kick, like what you’d do in the butterfly.
“My parents were watching me thinking ‘he has to be doing that wrong’. The instructor was telling them that they hadn’t even thought me that yet, but I was doing it quite well.
“I teach swimming now and if I saw somebody doing that, at that young age having not been shown it, I’d have to take a step back because it is more complicated of a technique.
“In the front crawl kick, your legs are just going straight up and down splashing.
“With the butterfly, your whole body is more like a wave, moving in a rhythm with this dolphin kick.”
When he was eight, Brendan and his family moved to Knocklyon and he started attending Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna off Delaford Avenue.
That year was a point in time for the budding swimming enthusiast.
He joined Tallaght Swim Club and, was glued to the television watching a 19-year-old Michael Phelps rip up the script at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
This was it. Brendan was hooked.
“I was quite good at a real young age, like in Fifth and Sixth Class,” Brendan tells The Echo.
“I was going to All-Irelands and Community Games, I was winning them, winning gold medals.
“But I stopped improving from the age of about 13 to 15.
“It went from winning gold, to winning silver, then bronze, then just not even making finals at all.
“I remember after my Junior Cert, I was just like ‘ah here I’ve had enough’ – I was thinking about packing it in all together.
“But then I got a new opportunity to train with some of the older lads, with the senior squad, out in the National Aquatic Centre.
“I was in Fourth Year at the time and I decided that I was going to give it some welly while there was not much pressure in school.”
It’s all about finding balance.
Brendan was getting up every single morning at 4.30am to make training at the National Aquatic Centre in Blanchardstown for 5am.
He’d spend two hours there before heading to school in Templeogue College, and then back out for his second training session before getting home for dinner at around 8pm.
After dinner, during the Leaving Certificate process, it was over to the Spawell to attend grinds and fall into bed at 10.30pm.
Brendan jokes that because he’s been to the Olympics, he is “living the nice life” in only needing to be out in Blanchardstown for training at 7am nowadays.
While that period was jam-packed between studying and training, he recalls that it was one of the most satisfactory times in his life.
“They were two of my best years in swimming and it’s because I had to be so focused,” the 15-time national champion details.
“I really wanted to do well in my Leaving Cert and I really wanted to do well in my swimming.
“I feel like if you want something bad enough, you’ll be motivated enough to do something about it and find a way.
“I used to sit up the front in class for my benefit because I’d literally be falling asleep.
“We’d have a half day on Wednesday, so that’d be my time to catch up on homework and then on the weekend I’d just be sleeping and studying.
“You’d say why do grinds? I wasn’t struggling at all, I knew I’d do well, like I got a B1 in Maths.
“But my mam would say that she would pay for me to do a proper hour with someone, because I didn’t have the time to be sitting there all day trying to study.”
Brendan achieved 525 points in his Leaving Certificate, and the B1 in Maths paved the way for a route into Actuarial Mathematics in Dublin City University (DCU).
Quickly, he realised that this was not the way. So he dropped out, deferred for a year and started a degree in Accounting and Finance instead.
In his final year in college, in 2019, things started to heat up as he prepared for exams and for the INA World Championships – the golden ticket for Olympic qualification.
“When I was at the Olympics, it was my second fastest time ever,” Brendan says.
“My fastest ever time was during my final year in college when I was sitting my exams.
“I had so much going on that it took the pressure off my performance.
“When you have something else to work on, it takes the pressure of the sport because it just becomes the hobby.
“You’re doing it because you enjoy it.”
At that event, Brendan smashed the Irish record in the 200m Butterfly semi-final by positing a time of 1:56.55 – just 0.7 seconds short of the Olympic qualifying time.
This prolonged the road to Tokyo, with his next qualifying opportunity scheduled for April 2020.
“The cards we were dealt… Jesus it was tough,” Brendan says.
“I graduated in September 2019, qualifying was in April, which was grand. It’s only six-months.
“I thought about this a lot. Getting to the Olympics was a huge, life-long dream for me.
“There were so many moments along the way – but those last few months were so tough.
“I was 0.7 seconds away at the World Championships. COVID hit, I actually couldn’t believe it. Then we had the controversy with my relay team.
“It was the final push and it was the most intense time in my life. You’re trying to do absolutely every single thing right. But things aren’t going to plan.”
As part of the Ireland Men’s 4x100m Medley Relay team, he was invited to the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Just days later, the team were left reeling after FINA rescinded its invitation after issuing it in error.
Resilience is a skill that is indoctrinated into a lot of sports people and Brendan has had to rely on that several times throughout his life.
Indeed, he needed to lean very heavily on that bouncebackability during the Olympic cycle.
There was a lull during this time, between June 7 and July 7 of this year.
It seemed like the journey was over and Brendan took a week-long break to enjoy watching the UEFA European Championships.
That break did not last long however, as Brendan finally got the break he deserved.
The Knocklyon man received a FINA B invitation that came on the basis of the 200m Butterfly time of 1:56.55 he set at the World Championships in South Korea in 2019.
And so, he flew out to Hamamatsu and competed in the 200m Butterfly and 4x200m Freestyle Relay at the Olympic games in July – achieving his dream.
“Nobody talks about what comes next,” he says.
“You spend your whole life trying to get there and you do, you cross the finish line in that life-long push.
“My coach has been through this over the years, there is the Olympic blues.
“People are asking you what you’re going to do next, what job do you want and all. But you don’t really know.
“I’ll probably end up doing something in finance or business, that sort of thing – but definitely not accounting.
“I’m keeping my options open at the moment, I want to do some travelling as well.”
When reflecting on his journey through education and his swimming career, Brendan highlights that at different stages in his life, there was different levels of importance.
Qualifying for a coveted swimming event at the age of 12 was the most important thing at that time.
Trying to win the Dublin Community Games at the age of 14 was everything.
At 16, the goal of reaching the Olympics came to the forefront alongside the importance of performing well in the Leaving Certificate.
“It starts off as a small goal, maybe it’s making training once a week and then twice a week.
“Then it’s something a bit bigger, like qualifying for an All-Ireland.
“Then you set a bigger goal like breaking a national record, winning a national title.
“I think back to when I was 16, it was at that point it started to become a serious goal to reach the Olympics and I wasn’t going to stop until I made it.
“It is all about having the resilience, keep believing in yourself no matter what.
“There are so many moments that feel like the most important at that time – you have to make your own importance.”