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Dr Bridie O’Donnell is the definition of a unique Australian sporting hero. A medical doctor who spent her 20s pursuing sideline sporting careers in rowing and Ironman triathlon, it wasn’t until she reached her mid-30s that O’Donnell found her true calling in the ranks of professional cyclists.
Intensely driven and a true believer that sporting greatness was still possible—at a time of life when most of us have long given up on our dreams—O’Donnell became a world record-breaker in 2016, when she set a new mark in women’s UCI Hour Record book.
Life and Death: a cycling memoir, is the story of that triumph. It is also the tale of the backbreaking hard work it took to get there—the audacity of O’Donnell’s late arrival in a brutally tough sport, the physical grind of training and the mind games of team selection, the rejections, the disappointments, the sorrows and the personal upheavals it took for Bridie O’Donnell to finally take her bow as a world-beater.
Life and Death will inspire both women and men who’ve given up on their sporting ambitions. It also gives a warts-and-all account of the real lives of professional cyclists. Pedalling through the picturesque alpine regions of Italy, barked at by sadistic and uncaring team managers, and persevering when most would have thrown in the towel, O’Donnell provides an unflinching portrait of the life of an Australian woman in the professional peloton.
A trailblazing athlete and doctor, Bridie O’Donnell is now the head of Victoria’s newly-established Office for Women in Sport, and a regular guest on the Network Ten television show The Project—a public profile that makes her a leading Australian voice on women’s sport and health issues. Upon its release, O’Donnell will be promoting Life and Death in a range of mainstream media outlets.
Dr Bridie O’Donnell graduated as Valedictorian from the University of Queensland Medical School and won the J R S Lahz Prize for Most Outstanding Intern at the Mater Hospitals in Brisbane in 1999. After rotating through various Medical and Surgical departments as part of junior residency and working in rural QLD as sole practitioner to regional areas, she moved to Melbourne in 2001. Here she was employed as an Intensive Care Fellow at Cabrini Hospital and worked as regular surgical assistant to surgeons at The Melbourne Orthopaedic Group for six years.
During this time, she was rowing as a member of Mercantile Rowing Club then Melbourne University Boat Club and won 7 Masters National Championships. After hanging up the oars and selling her single scull, she completed the Ironman Hawaii World Triathlon Championships in 2006 and rode an Australian Record for the 180km bike leg at Ironman Busselton at the end of that year.
In 2007, she began road cycling and in 2008 after winning the National Time Trial title, she took time out from Medicine to pursue selection for the Beijing Olympic Team in women’s road cycling. Despite not being selected for the Olympics, she then began a career as a professional road cyclist. From 2008 to 2012 she raced in Europe and the United States for the Australian National Team, and then Professional Italian teams, representing Australia at three World Championships from 2008-2010.
Dr O’Donnell returned to full time work in 2013 at Epworth HealthCheck as a behaviour change physician and teaching doctor-patient communication at Deakin University Medical School. In 2014, Bridie created the inaugural role as a breast physician at the Epworth Breast Service. Here her clinic involved reviewing long term breast cancer patients and counselling them about exercise, weight control and preventing recurrence of breast cancer.
Bridie has built a reputation through her blog and social media sites as a humorous and insightful advocate for women in sport, women making changes in their career and taking risks. She frequently appears on The Project as the ‘Medical Expert’ and did a weekly AFL injury report on SEN radio in Melbourne. She commentated her first World Road Cycling Championships on SBS in 2017, the fist time a woman was given a voice to cover the best female road cyclists in the world.
From 2013-2016, Bridie managed and raced for Rush Women’s Team, a National Road Series cycling team in Australia, coordinating commercial sponsors, team owners, riders and race organisers to successes and race wins over four seasons.
In 2016, she became the first Australian woman to make an attempt on the UCI World Hour record in 15 years, and broke the National record, the Masters record and set a new world record of 46.882km at the Adelaide Superdrome.
Dr O’Donnell was appointed the inaugural Head of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation by the Victorian Government in November, 2017. The OWSR will aim for gender equality across all roles in sport and active recreation, including participation, competition, leadership, coaching, executive and board positions.
Bridie’s interview with Andy Maher