ELSA Desmond was in the expensive Swiss ski resort of St Moritz last year when she got the news that she was finally a doctor.
That gives the impression of a glamorous lifestyle until she explains the harsh reality of mixing such a demanding career with the sliding sport of luge, especially when you’re from a non-alpine country.
For the past five years she has studied medicine at Kings College London while training and competing abroad.
“I was always revising, sometimes writing essays in the car between tracks. I’d often have my study cards and revision notes with me in the ‘start houses’ before races,” she reveals.
In her bid to become Ireland’s first female Olympian in luge Desmond (24) had arranged to take the past two years out of college to concentrate on qualifying for the 2020 Beijing Olympics but, with Covid’s disruption of international sport, decided to keep mixing both.
She has been on the international circuit since 2018, competing in the second tier Nations Cup races that directly precede World Cups.
She first saw luge on television in the 2006 Winter Olympics: “I thought it was so cool and when I found there was no woman from Ireland or GB doing I thought ‘I could do that!”
It took her 10 years to even get to try it, as a 16-year-old, in Innsbruck.
Ireland’s sole luger is part of a group of athletes from smaller nations who train and travel together. The international luge association (FIL) funds their two coaches, they live out of their suitcases and have already raced in Olympic qualifiers in China (Yanqing) and Russia (Sochi) this season.
Desmond’s dad Brendan grew up in Fulham but her paternal grandmother is from Ballyjamesduff (Cavan) and her grandfather is from Cork.
She represented GB for a year as a junior but then sat out international competition for 12 months to qualify for Ireland and her family has been centrally involved in setting up the Irish Luge Association.
“Being raised by a dad who is Irish in so many ways, I always wanted to represent Ireland and help get more small nations into luge. Now we are growing the sport.”