Elsa Desmond is the first Irish Olympian to compete in women’s luge. Even though she’s not going to win a medal at this year’s ceremonies, she believes she’s already won.
Desmond competed in the women’s luge event on Monday and returns to finish the race on Tuesday before flying out of China on Friday. She plans to return to work in Ireland on Saturday as a doctor. She admits she even had to delay parts of her internship to pursue a spot in the Olympics.
“As the founder of the modern Olympics said, ‘It’s not about who wins, it’s about the fight to get there,’” Desmond said. “And this has been my fight. I’ve given everything to get here. And I think everyone has their own story, everyone has their own journey, everyone makes sacrifices in different ways and has different battles.”
Desmond wasn’t far off when she mentioned Pierre de Coubertin. According to the Olympic Library, his actual quote was “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”
Although she is unlikely to win in Beijing, she has clearly won some fights. She’s been told that her quest is pointless because she’s too short, she didn’t start sliding at a young enough age, and her medical career is too difficult.
The fact that Ireland didn’t even have a luge federation may have been the most difficult challenge. As a result, she began her own.
She is now officially a luge Olympian.
On Monday night, she was the 26th sled to cross the finish line in the first run of the women’s race. She was in 26th place at the time, faster than none of the other finishers.
It didn’t matter; her huge smile was visible through her Irish green visor, and her little fists punched the cold air in joy.
“I have another job, I have to self-fund, I have all these really visible challenges,” Desmond said. “But other people have challenges that we can’t see. So, I think mine, yes, is a very obvious challenge. But I think everyone’s worked as hard as they can to be here.”
Her hospital not only granted her time off, but they’ve also become luge fans in a country where sliding sports aren’t particularly popular. Desmond is a general surgery doctor at Ireland’s Southend University Hospital.
David Walker, the hospital’s chief medical officer, stated that her coworkers are “extremely proud of her.”
“It will be exciting to see her compete thousands of miles away in front of millions of people across the world,” Walker said.
Desmond has managed to juggle two extremely demanding jobs while also pursuing a career in medicine for a few months each year. She was taking some important final exams last season, one in Latvia and one in Germany, in hotels where many other sliders were staying.
“I had to stick signs on my door saying ‘Do not disturb, exam in progress’ in about six different languages,” Desmond said.
It was understood. Some sliders have even used Desmond as a medical resource on occasion, seeking advice on various bumps, bruises, and worse.
“I try to say I’m not on duty,” Desmond said. And not only did she make it to Beijing, but she was also given the honor of being selected as one of Ireland’s two flagbearers for Friday’s opening ceremony — along with freestyle skier Bubba Newby. They led their country’s six-person Olympic contingent during the parade of athletes.
“I really was not expecting this, especially at my first Olympics,” Desmond said. “I don’t think I can put into words how excited I am to lead out the team. I really hope that I … make my country proud.”