PAWTUCKET — During the final stretch of the inaugural Irish 5K on Saturday morning, Brendan “Buzz” Doyle watched as two runners passed him the last few yards.
That was something that may have bothered him when he was a standout runner at St. Raphael Academy, located up the street from the Pawtucket race. It certainly wouldn’t have sat well when he continued to excel with his running career at Iona College and later on the local road-racing circuit.
Not this time, however.
For the first time in more than four years, Doyle dipped under the 20-minute mark, placing 24th among the 850 finishers with a time of 19:44.3.
“It was great,” he said. “I got out-kicked by two guys, but I was just looking at the (finish line) clock and saw that I was going to get under 20 minutes and I was so happy.”
Doyle has plenty of reasons to be happy these days, and it has nothing to do with running 19 and change for a 5K race. While at Iona in the early 2000s, he once ran that same distance nearly five-minutes faster with personal-best of 14:48.
The fact that he's on the roads and competing again with big plans for the not-so-distant future, that's the storyline. That's what has made running a sub 20-minute 5K a reason to celebrate.
A few months shy of four years ago, there was a strong possibility that Doyle would even live, let alone walk again. Running was the furthest thing on his mind. That came as the result of one fateful night on June 16, 2007, when the former Saints runner and Rhode Island State Trooper was viciously attacked by a reckless driver in downtown Providence while trying to prevent a dangerous situation from happening.
Off-duty and leaving McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon with a few friends, Doyle noticed the erratic driving of James Proulx, who nearly hit a few pedestrians along Pine Street. After chasing down, and approaching, Proulx as he stopped at a traffic light, the former correctional officer from Smithfield got out of his vehicle and punched Doyle in the face, causing him to fall backwards to the hard pavement.
Doyle suffered severe brain damage from the confrontation and lay in a bed at R.I. Hospital for several weeks, waking up from a coma more than two weeks later. The long, C-shaped scar behind his right ear - the result of surgery that was done to alleviate pressure on his brain - is now the only noticeable sign from the ordeal.
Demonstrating the determination and will that was so often a trait of his late father, legendary R.I. marathoner Bobby Doyle, the 29-year-old Doyle has shown an amazing recovery since the incident.
It was certainly something that wasn't imagined by the medical personnel that tended to his care or his family and friends that often visited him at his hospital bed.
“I started running six months after the injury,” he said. “They said I had to wait six months before I could drive. Once I could drive, I said, ‘Okay, I’ll start running again.' I would run with my brother (Patrick) and we’d run 9:30- 10-minute miles. It didn't matter. I was so happy just to be able to be running.”
Doyle still experiences some after-effects from the brain injury.
“It's different because my cadence will never be the same,” he said. “My right side is still a little weak, but every year it's getting better and better. I hit the heavy bag downstairs in my gym and my right side is so much weaker than the left. But each year, it's getting better and better.”
And so is his running.
Whereas before Doyle was running nine and 10-minute miles, he's now averaging sub-6:30s for the five-kilometer distance. He noticed he was making positive strides in that direction in June of last year while doing a track workout three years to the day of the incident.
“Before, I had no second or third gear,” he said.”This was the first time I could actually move a little faster. It's great. This past summer is when I saw the difference.”
Doyle credits a plethora of people for his amazing comeback. One of those people is former SRA teammate Matt Lagor, who has been training with his good friend for the last few years. Lagor, a meteorologist at WLNE ABC6 and a two-time state champion in the 1,000-meter run in the late 1990s, also competed in the Irish 5K. He finished slightly ahead of Doyle, placing 21st overall at 19:37.8.
“My goal was to run 20 minutes and 30 seconds so running this fast was amazing,” said Doyle after Saturday's race. “Matt beat me by like five seconds and he just helped me the whole way. I went out in 6:35 for the first mile and I think I went 6:19 and 6:12 for the next two. I ran negative splits the whole way. I haven't done that in years.”
Doyle's family, including his older brother Patrick and his wife of eight months, Jessica, have also been instrumental in his successful return.
“I have a great family with my stepfather and my mother Maureen,” he said. “They are always on top of me, calling me to make sure that I am okay. I am lucky to have my family. I am lucky to just be able to run.”
Doyle's goals for the future are to improve on his 5K time and then to actually tackle a 26.2-mile marathon. He's presently running about three miles a day in the early morning.
“My next goal is to break 19 minutes (for 5K) and eventually 18 and then I'll up my miles,” he said. “I would like to run a marathon in the fall and my goal is to get under three hours. I've run 2:51, running 60 miles a week. I know I have to train a lot harder just to get under three hours.”
Doyle's wife has been a big supporter in his dream of running a competitive marathon again.
“She motivates me,” he said. “She wants me to run the marathon. She said, 'I know you'll have no home or dinner time for me. But she said, 'Go out and run your 10 miles and dinner will be ready for you.’ She is pushing me through.”
Doyle lost his father when he suffered a severe heart attack on Dec. 14, 2007, a mere six months after he nearly lost his own life. His dad has been one of his prime motivators in his journey back to competitive running.
From above the clouds, Doyle believes the late great marathoner has also been among his many supporters.
“I know,” he said, “he's up there watching over me.”