Sports medicine was in its infancy when highly decorated doctor Grace Bryant OAM finished university and started her career that would include five Olympic campaigns.
Bryant’s expertise and dedication to her profession will lead to induction as a General Member into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame at the 33rd Induction and Awards Gala Dinner, proudly presented by Etihad Airways on Thursday 12th October 2017.
They say timing is everything, and that is true for Bryant who took full advantage of every fortunate moment she had with opportunities to advance her career.
Her success as a physician in the sports world is defined by the pride she took in helping elite athletes achieve their dream when hope was lost due to injury or sickness.
Providing those athletes with her medical expertise in a supportive environment behind the scenes, always ready to be called on, was a mantra she followed.
“Olympics are always intense – it’s pretty full on, and you always start with the training camp leading in beforehand,” Bryant recalled.
“You’re basically there living with the athletes 24/7 for those three weeks plus – you work long hours and you share the on-call at night covering if anything occurs.
“You’ve got to react to all types of circumstances that may arise and be supportive for your other colleagues and even more so be that little cog in the background for those athletes.”
The Olympics is the pinnacle for nearly all elite sportspeople, and it is the same for those who provide medical support on the sidelines, patching them up when things go wrong.
Just as the Games is a bubble of stress, emotion and fatigue for the athletes, it is the same for the medical team working around the clock in the background.
“They put so much in to get to the Games, so the opportunity for them to be able to perform to their expectation and level that they’ve trained for is important,” Bryant said of those Olympians.
After graduating in 1978 her start as a junior doctor was a humble one, gallivanting around Sydney on the weekend eager to gain any sort of hands-on experience with a sports team or event.
A talented water polo player as a junior, she had always been involved in netball one way or another and was honoured with life membership from Netball Australia in 2012.
Bryant started working at the first private sports medicine practice in Australia, which was begun by Jeni Saunders and was soon a director at South Sydney Sports and Orthopaedic Medicine in 1985.
Professional sports teams that Bryant worked with early in her career included Newtown Rugby League Club, Sydney Swans and Canterbury Bulldogs.
Atlanta in 1996 was where she made her first Olympics as a team doctor, a job that was offered to her following volunteer work whilst in the hospital system.
“It was a tremendous honour,” Bryant said of her first Olympics.
“I had put my nomination in and they were looking to have a female doctor and my name had been put forward with all the work I had done with netball.”
Since she has been president of the NSW Branch of Sports Medicine Australia, secretary of the Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians and a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney.
The most challenging major championship was clearly the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi as monsoons brought dengue fever due to a flooded river overspilling into the basin.
Bryant thrived under pressure during a major sporting event and always enjoyed the process of solving the medical problems that she was presented.
“Being able to do that little bit extra to get the athlete back on the field whether it be hockey, netball or water polo,” she said describing her job.
“You’ve always got to think, ‘do no harm’.
“There is a line between what is medically acceptable and what’s not.”
A lasting memory for Bryant came at her second Olympics in 2000 in her home city of Sydney where she celebrated the women’s water polo team’s victory in the gold medal match with a swimming legend.
“Sydney was my home Games and I was a team doctor for the women’s water polo and it was their first Olympics,” Bryant recounted.
“I was doing headquarters and also looking after that team, so I was on pool deck being throttled by Dawn Fraser as the girls went ahead in the last three seconds and won the gold medal.
“The last medal of the Games and the first medal for women’s water polo – you know, how can you top that? It was pretty fantastic.”
Bryant’s career honours include the Australian Sports Medal in 2000, the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2008 for service to a wide range of sporting organisations, Induction into the Netball Australia Hall of Fame in 2012 and life membership of Netball NSW in 2017.
Bryant will make her swansong as Australia’s chief medical officer at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, her fifth in total, as she concentrates on working with the next generation.
In the twilight of her career in elite sport, it is now more about giving back to those starting out while continuing her work as director of Sports Medicine at Sydney University.
“I’m trying to wind down,” Bryant reasoned.
“I’ve got a registrar at the Australian College of Sports Physicians – I’m training new doctors coming through at the Uni practice.
“Hopefully I still have got something more to offer for the young ones coming through at this stage.”
Bryant was genuinely surprised to be considered for induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, particularly given she is not an athlete.
“I was surprised and excited when the Sport Australia Hall of Fame contacted me,” she said.
“I’m not an athlete and I have only occasionally been in the public eye so a public accolade like this is completely unexpected.
“I feel grateful that SAHOF recognises the team behind the team.”
Dr Grace Bryant will be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame on Australian sport’s night of nights – the sold out 33rd Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner – proudly presented by Etihad Airways, on Thursday 12th October at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne.
Established in 1985, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame plays a vital role in preserving and perpetuating Australia’s rich sporting heritage, whilst promoting the values of courage, sportsmanship, integrity, mateship, persistence, and excellence, all underpinned by generosity, modesty, pride and ambition.
2017 will mark the 33rd edition of this event, with eight Australian sporting icons, from on and off the field, to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
In addition to the eight inductees one current Member will be elevated to Legend status, becoming the official 39th Legend of Australian Sport.