IRISHMAN Brendan Boyce originally came to England to train as a physiotherapist at Coventry University.
Five years later, a chance meeting with national race walking coach Andi Drake has the adopted Leeds athlete on the verge of this summer’s Olympics.
Boyce, 25, is one of those sportsmen who thrived at everything as a youngster back in his native Donegal.
Sprinting, long jump and long distance running all came naturally to the youngest of seven children, but it is in race walking that a blossoming sporting career was born.
After starting the sport by chance as a youngster, Boyce arrived at Coventry University in 2007 as an enthusiast, but his involvement with the sport stepped up a gear after meeting national coach Drake – then also based in the west midlands city.
His influence quickly took Boyce to a new level – so much so that when Drake left for Leeds Met University and its high-performance centre in 2009, Boyce followed.
A decision to chase international sporting glories was made and while recent Leeds recruit Boyce could be forgiven for targeting the 2016 Rio Olympics, it is the London 2012 Games that are very much on his mind.
“This year’s Olympics is definitely the one,” Boyce told LS1. “You’ve got to make the most of what’s coming up now.
“my aim is to try and get in peak condition for the Olympics this year. There’s no point leaving anything and hoping that next year will be better.
“If I could get to the Olympics it would be massive and from my country I would be the first athlete for 36 years to compete in this event at the games.”
Boyce now trains alongside fellow internationals Johanna Jackson, Thomas Bosworth and Alex Wright in Headingley.
The campus is barely two miles from Boyce’s Kirkstall pad which he shares with some of his training colleagues and five years on from leaving Ireland, Leeds is now very much home.
Explaining how the switch across the Irish sea developed, Boyce said: “I came to the UK five years ago and at first I went to Coventry to study physiotherapy.
“I was doing race walking before but I was kind of self-coached and I didn’t really have much direction.
“Then I met Andi Drake in Coventry which was just a coincidence as it was the course that brought me to Coventry. The Olympics were a long way off and education came first.
“I started training with Andi with a bit more focus for the first time and then I got a few senior internationals under my belt.
“after two years there, Andi got his job in Leeds and I followed.
“It was a great opportunity to train in Leeds with the centre of excellence and with the set-up and professional coaches.
“There’s none in Ireland so it was a phenomenal opportunity and I swapped my course to a sports development one.
“It took probably a month of discussions with different people and my parents back home – trying to convince them that I could make the Olympics and that it wasn’t just a dream.
“But, ultimately, it was down to me.
“Now I’ve finished uni so I just live and train full time in Leeds – I live with the other race walkers in Kirkstall and I don’t really get homesick too much.
“I find it hard to go home and train because it’s in the middle of nowhere. In Leeds everything is on my doorstep.”
The move has worked wonders for Boyce, who was highly commended in last week’s Leeds Sports Awards in the sportsman of the year category alongside fellow runner-up Jonathan Brownlee and behind winner Alistair Brownlee.
“Even to get a nomination for the awards was a bit of a surprise,” said Boyce. “To be even considered in the same category as the Brownlees is a tremendous confidence boost.”
another confidence boost could be on the cards this weekend as Boyce seeks to go a long way to booking his place at the London Games.
He has already achieved the qualification time once and is now out to impress selectors further by repeating it in Slovakia.
Reflecting on his amazing progression in just two years in Leeds, Boyce said: “My first year in Leeds was big.
“I took chunks off my personal bests over all the distances and I only just missed out on the European Championships.
“Then last year I had my first breakthrough when I competed in the European race walking cup – that was my first senior international and then there was the World Student Games which was my first global event.
“A couple of weeks after that I got the Olympic A-standard so the last year was a really big one.
“but there’s potentially four or five Irish guys going for the 50k walk.
“I’m racing in the 50k this weekend and if I get another A-standard it will show form for the season. Hopefully that will be enough to get the nod from the selectors.”
Boyce has had his fair share of obstacles, including a cyclist who knocked him over when training in Leeds last April.
He fractured his kneecap yet just seven weeks later was competing in the European Race-Walking Cup where he finished 29th.
Boyce was a sprinting sensation as a seven-year-old, but shrewdly chose to pursue the less popular race walking.
“I was second in Ireland in the sprints, but I did most of the events in athletics – long jumps and middle distances,” he said.
“Then an opportunity came up to do a race walk so I entered it and I won without really knowing what it was about.
“There were opportunities in race walking – it’s not very popular and it’s an easier way to get yourself known.
“Well, not easy maybe, but there’s not as many people so you can get talent spotted quite easily.”
That race walking is not easy is not in doubt.
The Irish star, though, is just making it look it.