David O'Brien OAM gives back after stellar career in pool, surf and open water

Swimming has enabled Burraneer resident David O’Brien to do great things for the community.

Mr O’Brien, who has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Australia Day honours, was the first Australian athlete to represent his country internationally in three separate disciplines in the water: pool swimming, surf lifesaving and marathon swimming. 

He has been a volunteer surf lifesaver with the Cronulla club for 43 years and is a crew member for helicopter and offshore marine rescue services.

Mr O’Brien is also a senior firefighter / research investigator in Fire & Rescue NSW.

Mr O’Brien made his first Australian team in 1985, competing in the 400 metres freestyle in what is now  the Pan Pacific Games.

He then specialised in surf lifesaving, winning the Australian Open Surf Belt National championship at the 1988 titles held at Wanda.

He was chosen to captain the  Australian team for the Trans Tasman Test to New Zealand in 1989.

Mr O’Brien then turned to open water swimming, competing throughout the world.

His first major international success was at the world championships in Perth in 1991, where he won a bronze medal.

He and Kieren Perkins, who won silver in the 1500 metres in the pool, were the only male swimmers in the Australian team to take home individual medals.

Mr O’Brien captained the Australian open water team at the FINA world championships in Rome in 1994, where he won gold in the 25km event.

He won numerous titles over 10km and 25km in Australia between 1990 and 1994.

In 2017, he was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

Mr O’Brien said he was “so chuffed” to be nominated for the OAM by his peers.

”I don’t go around looking for kudos, I just like to get in and get the job done,” he said.

”At the end of the day, it comes down to the sort of person you are.

“My motto is not what you have done, but what you do.

”Over the years, I have helped save a lot of people. I use the skills I have gained to give back.”


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