Fit & Fab: cyclist Joe Donnelly has overcome many sporting injuries

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2014, 10:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2014, 10:39am

What's the difference between being good at sport and being good in business? Not a lot, says Joel Donnelly, managing director of property recruitment firm Capstone Recruitment.

Building a team of like-minded players and applying an athlete's mentality is the secret to success, he says.

"To be successful in our industry, you need to thrive in a team environment, and work hard to get what you want," says the 33-year-old, who's from Australia.

You eat a slice of humble pie, put your head down and get back to work

"It's like any elite athlete - to get to that level you have to be tough. You have to train when it's cold, get up after a loss, and go again. You have to be competitive."

Donnelly found out what it takes through personal experience. At the age of 18, he played in the Australian national soccer super league, and came close to realising his dream of turning professional.

But a bad tackle broke his arm, and left him requiring several operations, cutting short his career.

However, sport is a constant. And these days, Donnelly jumps on a mountain bike and into an ocean kayak, although a recent back injury has forced him to cut back on his "10-times a week" sporting addiction, which included soccer, swimming and cycling.

To find an outlet for his passions, Donnelly sponsors niche sporting events through Capstone.

In addition to backing a team to take part in the Genco Mongolia Bike Challenge, which starts at the end of August, Donnelly and a team of colleagues will take part in the Cape to Cape mountain bike challenge in October. Competing in the four-day, 210-kilometre race in Western Australia is a way of mixing business and pleasure, and a chance to learn a few life lessons.

"Sport is a great leveller. I've had some of my most humbling experiences on a football pitch or on a bike.

"Just when you think you're king of the pack, you have a bad day, get thumped, or someone better races past you on a rusty old bike. You eat a slice of humble pie, put your head down and get back to work," he says.

You've taken a lot of falls in sport over the years. What gets you back up again?

Beyond the simple physiological effects of feeling better when exercising, sport gives me the ability to deal effectively with people from all walks of life and integrate quickly into new environments. As sport is a universal language, there are no real barriers. Whether you're on a football pitch in China, or on a bike in Mongolia, there is no better way to make friends learn the nuances of a culture, and assimilate.

What was your hardest challenge?

Almost breaking my back three years ago while rock climbing in Turkey. A ledge gave way and I fell about eight metres. I landed on my feet and felt a shattering through my pelvis. The initial diagnosis was crush fractures to three vertebrae, which resulted in a ruptured disc causing nerve issues. Getting out of bed or tying my shoes was agonising. There was a period when I would spend a lot of the day lying on the floor on my back under my desk. At that point, I felt it was best to get surgery, which was a lifesaver.

Do you learn more from the wins or the losses?

You learn from both. While I may never have "made it" in sport in the traditional sense of the word, all the hurdles I overcame and goals I achieved brought an abundance of positive attributes to my life.

Why the interest in cycling - is it the new golf of business?

Absolutely. As disturbing a trend as it may be, middle-aged men are replacing their plaid for Lycra. Cycling is a true team sport and it's more athletic than golf, while still being social. It has become a great way to build relationships with clients, as it is easy to get out on the bike together every morning for a few hours, whereas golf is much harder to do on such a regular basis.

How do you combine being a dad and a sports fanatic?

It's like juggling chainsaws. The secret to maintaining a happy and healthy existence, especially in Hong Kong, is balance. Not just for me, but for the whole family. I have an amazing wife who lets me get out on the bike, or the kayak, early in the morning or late in the afternoon before I take the baby reins and let her get her exercise in.

Any other sport you'd consider?

If my body breaks any more, I might end up playing golf after all. I'd always dreamed of running the New York Marathon, but that's probably off the cards with my back the way it is. But never say never.