RM 10Qs with DJ O'Brien

A family, a job, and more energy than just about anyone trying to catch her in the water

DJ O’Brien
Age 49
Hometown Bonita, CA
Facebook.com/ Donna Jo O'Brien
Instagram.com/ 1saltwater

DJ O’Brien is an inspiration to be around, to hear about, or to know as a friend.  Her energy and positive attitude is contagious.  Her drive and motivation is second to none.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet no one has raced more races this year than DJ!  Here’s DJ on the eve of heading to Catalina for her 8th 32 Mile Catalina Classic Paddleboard Race . . . 

RM: Athlete that inspires you?
DJO: A few names off the top of my head from the beginning of my paddling life are Jane Cairns, Joe Bark, Steve Fairbrother, Jamie Mitchell, Kyle Daniels, Mike Inscore, Theresa Connelly, Jo Ambrosi and Cindy Cleveland.  Each of these watermen and waterwomen have taught me something important about this sport.  I'm inspired by the close friendships with the women who make up the South Bay Mermaids and the young amazing athletes that I have had the privilege of racing and watching them come out and dominate; Kelsey O'Donnell, Carter Graves, Jordan Mercer to name a few.  I'm also inspired by the young girls that I get the honor of training with currently.  As a pediatric physical therapist, I've worked with many kids that have disabilities.  Although not athletes, I'm inspired by the hard work that they put in with me, and it keeps me going, no matter what.

RM: How many years have you been competing?
DJO: My very first time on a paddleboard was for the Riviera R-10 race in 2000.  I had been ocean swimming for about four years  and I wanted to challenge myself in swimming.  There were two distances for the race, and I wanted to swim the three mile distance to see if I could do it, but since there were no other swimmers, Joe said 'no' to the swim and threw me on an old Becker paddleboard.  That day literally changed the course of my life.  It is now fifteen years and five boards later and my passion and love for the ocean and paddling keeps me competing and loving this sport.  I still have that old Becker too.  

RM: What fuels your competitiveness?
DJO: I tend to be competitive.  Maybe growing up with a big sister always one step ahead of me helped to fuel it, but it is there.  I don't think I ever really knew the extent of my competitiveness until I found my passion for the ocean and paddling.  It has evolved over the years from the competition within myself to find out what I can do on my own and what I am capable of pushing my body to do, to competing against others for time.  Although competitive, it is my passion and it is my fun and I plan to continue paddling long after my season of competition is through!

RM: Weekend trip... where to? what do you bring? 
DJO: My car is ready to go at all times!  Although I am lucky to live where I'd want to vacation, a weekend trip to anywhere near water sounds amazing!  Baja!  I'd have my paddle board, a surfboard, mask and snorkel, sarongs, firewood, lots of food and Pacificos!  

RM: Lone wolf or training companion? 
DJO: Over the years, I have been both.  In the early days I'd get up before dawn to train so as not to disturb my family and work life.  I didn't know many people willing to do that back then, so I was often on my own.  Starting the South Bay Mermaids was my way to have both great training partners and lifelong friends.   Now it's common to get up early to meet a squad of awesome paddlers and we all train hard and have fun doing it.  It is the best feeling to be pushing yourself on the ocean with like-minded people out there doing the same.  There are times, also, for those long meditative, solo paddles on the ocean; this is where I get centered, grateful, whole and happy.  

RM: Pinnacle racing moment so far?
DJO: Despite starting the year off with a broken foot, this year has by far been the most amazing racing season yet.  I've had the opportunity to travel to North Carolina for the Carolina Cup, Santa Cruz for the Davenport Downwinder, Hawaii for the Molokai to Oahu World Championships and now the wait is on for the Classic.  A pinnacle moment from this year was finishing the final leg of the relay with Aimee Spector through the Port Lock waves at the M2O World Championships.  The feelings of fear, exhaustion and joy were so closely tied together, it was like nothing I have experienced before.  A pinnacle moment from the past was the sprint battle at the end of the Catalina Classic 2011, down to just over 30 seconds between me and Jo Ambrosi.  Good times!

RM: Sponsors?
DJO: My biggest sponsors and fans are my family, friends and Bark Paddleboards.  Tim has been on my boat nearly every channel crossing and my daughters, mom, neighbors and friends faithfully call and text with encouragement or wait for me on the shore after the Classic each August.  Joe and Charlie and the guys at the shop have been there for me from shaping great boards and repairing all my fin boxes and dings to being great friends and hanging out eating tacos with a Pacifico (or two).  

RM: What are you training for now?
DJO: I have been training for the Catalina Classic which is coming up in two days!  This is the race that drives me each year to put in the time and dedication to do my best.  I love the endurance race.  I love the history of the Classic.  It is such a long, beautiful, challenging paddle and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to participate in it each year.  This will be my 8th Catalina Classic and there is no place I'd rather be.  

RM: Training secrets? Care to share?
DJO: I think when you love what you are doing, it clearly shows in your training.  I have many inspirational quotes that I write out and keep around to inspire myself and others during training.  I use the philosophy of train how you want to race. 
RM: Do you have a dream race you want to create?
DJO: It would be awesome to have a Mermaid sponsored race in the South Bay!  It's been a topic at our board meetings, but nothing set yet… Maybe a distance race and bikini's in the finishers bags!  : )  It would be great to see how many prone women we could get from all around the world to compete together in one venue.  That would be a dream.  

RM: Training Tracks: Favorite songs to train/race to? 
DJO: I haven't yet used much music to train or race to.  When I am racing, I love to hear the sound of the ocean and focus on the paddling; It puts me in the zone.   It is my time to reflect and be grateful for what I have and what I can do.  
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