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Heather O’Brien, Clinic Manager and Lead Physiotherapist at North Cork Physio Clinic, former Irish rugby player

Thursday, 7th March, 2019 9:35am

Name and position: Heather O’Brien, Clinic Manager and Lead Physiotherapist at North Cork Physio Clinic, former Irish rugby player

Age: 34

Lives: Mallow

Family: My parents are in Churchtown, with one sister living near them with three great kids. My brother is in America and my other sister is in Australia.

Pets: Plenty as a kid - we were lucky to grow up on a farm so always had loads of animals around.

Favourite thing about Cork: Its beautiful parts, from the sea views in West Cork to the Munster Vales in the north.

Least favourite thing about Cork: That it hasn’t been named the capital yet, haha!

One thing you’d change about Cork:  A Cork-Limerick motorway would be nice.

When you were small, what did you want to be as a grown-up?

All sorts - I had ponies growing up, so I wanted to go to Badminton eventing. 

Tell us about your career progression to your role today:

I studied physiotherapy in Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh straight after school.  I worked in hospitals for a few years while working in clinics in the evenings. I quickly realised I loved the clinic side, so wanted to move to that full time, and started that ten years ago. 

Since then I would constantly add to my skill set - courses in Pilates, dry needling, acupuncture, orthotics to mention a few.  I’m also studying for an MSc in UCC, so I’m enjoying the research aspect of physiotherapy and sports injuries.

Rugby started in college, when I couldn’t exactly pack the horse and bring them to college with me.  I had always loved watching it, so I was thrilled to finally get a chance to play. I played Scottish universities and club rugby in Murrayfield. When I moved back to Cork I joined Highfield, then luckily was selected for Munster and eventually Ireland.

Balancing a busy clinic, your own business and international sport was always a challenge. Since retiring from rugby I’ve had more time to focus on work, and that’s when I came across the Local Enterprise Office. I only wish I’d found them sooner. As a physio all your study and development is on the clinical side of things, so it’s been great to look at the other side of business.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?

Seeing people improve and get back to what they enjoy doing. The challenge of figuring out the problem and devising a plan to help them recover

What motivates you?

A goal!! I need a target, or I get complacent. People who can train just for fitness are amazing. I need the pressure of an impending race or event.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

You are more capable than you give yourself credit for.

If you weren’t in the job you have, what would you be doing?

I did a bit of sports writing and really enjoyed it. Analysing the games was automatic as a player, so it was fun to do as a spectator.

What is your greatest life or career achievement to-date?

Rugby wise, reaching the World Cup semi-final was a fantastic occasion and a cumulating of many years’ hard work. As a team we had built towards that and knew our roles and aims so well.

Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?

Family – they keep me well grounded!

What is the life dream now?

Enjoying all the adventures.

How do you switch off?

Visiting home is always good. It probably helps that phone reception is terrible there, haha! Now, it’s training - since finishing rugby I’ve been training for fun, and it’s brilliant. There’s a few of us, retired from rugby, who meet up for activities, triathlons, hiking boating etc.

What is your favourite Cork memory?

Watching Sonia O’Sullivan run in the 2000 Olympic Games from the school hall. All classes were paused to cheer one of Cork’s finest around the track.

What is your favourite place in Cork?

Home is green fields where we rode our ponies sloping down to a river where we canoed as kids

Do you have a favourite quote or motto?

Not really, but I always aim to remember that any morning we wake up and can get out of bed is one to be thankful for.

When are you at your happiest?

Hiking in beautiful scenery with the thought of lovely food in a cosy pub afterwards.

Any regrets?

Plenty of experiences I’ve learned from and things that with hindsight I might approach differently, but no regrets.

What is your hidden talent?

Well if I tell you it won’t be hidden anymore! I’m struggling here, but I suppose I can still do the splits!

What might we be surprised to know about you?

Most people think I’m very strict about what I eat, and are convinced it’s all plain chicken and carrot sticks. People have checked with family if I ate chocolate or not! The laughing response is accurate.  Yes I eat healthily, or at least try, but I certainly never deprive myself. Although, since training has reduced, I may have to start being more sensible.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I am speaking at an event called 'On the Starting Line - from a career in sport to starting a business' on the 7 March that is organised by the Cork city Local Enterprise Office. They are running several events from the 4-8 March, as it is Local Enterprise Week. It's a great opportunity for local entrepreneurs to give advice and help budding entrepreneurs and SMEs, and I am really excited to be part of it.

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