SHE made history as the first Irish women's bobsleigh pilot to qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada.
But three days before her impressive show in Whistler, British Columbia, Aoife Hoey learned the devastating news that has forced her to retire from the sport and consigned the Irish women's bobsleigh team to history, at least for now.
Ms Hoey (30), from Portarlington, Co Laois, said a routine MRI scan she underwent at the Olympic village prior to her competition revealed that she not only had potentially serious endometriosis, but three herniated disks in her back that could leave her crippled for life.
"There was the thrill of competing but then finding out this news was devastating," she told the Herald.
Despite the grim diagnosis, she put on a brave front and raced anyway, proudly hoisting the Tricolour as flagbearer for the Irish team during the opening ceremonies.
But when she finished her competition with brakewoman Claire Bergin -- which placed them 17th among 21 competitors -- she told her sister and the team's chef d'equipe Siobhan Hoey that her bobsleighing days were over and she retired.
While the endometriosis, a serious gynaecological condition, is under control Ms Hoey suffers chronic back pain and will undergo complicated spinal fusion surgery in the autumn.
She admits it will be difficult for her to watch the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia this month, where she had hoped to compete.
"As much as I wanted to carry on, my body has failed me," she said.
She now lives in Stockholm with her fiance, Swedish engineer Christian Printz (28), but can't engage in winter sports due to the risk to her back.
"Now I'm living here and surrounded by snow but I can't afford to have a fall. Even walking, I have to be very cautious," she said.
Despite losing her career in sports, there is a silver lining.
Ms Hoey will return home to be married at Durrow Castle in her home county.
She planned the wedding for February 18, partly to keep her mind off the Olympics, which run from February 7-23, even though she feels "left behind".
But she is looking forward to her future and her new career as a teacher after bidding a sad farewell to her beloved sport.
"It was a great time in my life, we achieved something we strived so hard to do," she said.
"But you have to think about the rest of your life," she added.
CAPTION: brave: Aoife Hoey