Sarah Bradley: The Woman, The Myth, The Mystery



[disclaimer: while both authors know Ms. Bradley personally, in no way did they allow their pre-existing affection and admiration of their subject to influence their objectivity in researching this piece.]

When asked what she is going to do after graduating from HLS, Sarah Bradley pauses – the plan, she says, is to take the New York bar before returning to Toronto, where she hopes to develop a cross-border corporate-commercial practice.

Then she hesitates; her fiancĂ©, Clar Dwyer, also a lawyer, lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, making for a killer commute. It is also clear that the prospect of being chained to a desk by a pair of ‘golden hand-cuffs’ as a junior associate on Bay Street has little real appeal. She has contemplated a teaching career, having developed a niche in the highly competitive scholarly field of estate planning. “I’m geographically flexible”, she says, meaning she might end up anywhere, hopefully doing something that allows for more independence and creativity, like management consultancy.

This will come as no surprise to those that know her well, and indeed, even consultancy work seems like a fairly tame step for this self-confessed adrenaline junkie, a woman who has informed opinions about which is scarier: jumping off a cliff, or jumping out of a plane.

In fact, though she is shy to talk about it, Bradley is well-known in Canada within the underground, and highly illegal, BASE-jumping circuit. Kimberly Eldred, a fellow Canadian and a novice jumper herself, says, “Sarah is incredible – she is willing to make jumps that no one in their right mind should do.” Bradley was the first woman to jump from the CN Tower in her native Toronto, leaping from the impressive height of 520 metres (over 1,700 feet) and breaking only one fingernail.

But rumours surfaced about an incident in Zambia in 2003, where Bradley’s trademark fearlessness may have abandoned her. An eyewitness has related to this reporter that in fact, Bradley shied away from bungie-jumping off Victoria Falls, at the time the highest commercial jump in the world, at a mere 90 meters.

The problem? There is a persistent rumour that Bradley suffers from a terrifying hydrophobia, which has plagued her since an ill-fated canoe trip as a child. Speaking on conditions of anonymity, an acquaintance reports: “Sarah’s fear of water is as legendary as her fearlessness in other areas – she pushes herself hard to compensate. Something as small as a bottle of Poland Springs in the fridge can set her off.”

Who is this enigma of a woman? Risk-taking entrepreneur, brilliant academic, water-phobe? The Record decided to find out, speaking with friends, colleagues and employers, trying to uncover the real Sarah Bradley.

BASE-jumping, four-person bobsled, oenophile – by all accounts, Bradley enjoys living on the extreme edge, pushing herself to wring every ounce of thrill and pleasure out of life. During her undergraduate years at the University of Toronto (Canada), Bradley spent half of each year training and managing a professional women’s cycling team in Southern California, and touring across America in the lead-up to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. One of the preparatory races? No less than the Tour de France.

Tragedy struck before her Olympic dreams could come true, however – dashing Bradley’s hopes of challenging good friend and poker-buddy Lance Armstrong for the legendary yellow jersey herself. It was a heart-breaking run-in with an unruly shopping cart that shattered Bradley’s knee, and her dreams of furthering her already impressive professional cycling career.

Armed with her psychology degree, Bradley then decided to go in a wholly new direction, dropping out of society to devote herself to her art. She moved into a ramshackle cottage on the outskirts of Port Hope, Ontario, where she devoted herself to the relentless pursuit of that most difficult of muses, stained glass, paying the bills with the occasional ecclesiastical restoration project. Renowned Irish collector Jacquelyn Kinghan speaks highly of Bradley’s work, comparing it favourably with such internationally revered glass artists as Ilona Barasko-Lindsay and “Mo”. Says Kinghan, “Sarah’s deft hand allows her to paint with light, an genius alchemy of fire and sand of a kind that is seen but once in a generation.”

But Bradley was restless – she needed something more. She describes her decision to reintegrate to society as quite literally a “road to Damascus” moment. One afternoon, while making a lane change on the 401 Highway, a spontaneous thought arose. Bradley needed to do something different, something dramatic: she needed to go to law school. “As my turning signal clicked, I knew I needed to make a change,” says Bradley. “If I didn’t, the rest of my life could easily have been the same thing everyday.”

Thus it was that the fall of 1999 brought her to bucolic Kingston, Ontario, entering her first year at Queen’s Law School, one of Canada’s most prestigious law schools. It is not uncommon to see Queen’s students humourously sporting witty t-shirts reading “Harvard: The Queen’s of the USA.” What is all the more remarkable is that Queen’s is located on the rocky shores of Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes. With this awesome body of water so close, would Bradley be able to concentrate on her studies? Bill Flanagan, Dean of Queen’s Law School, does not recall Bradley from her years there, as he did not become Dean until 2005. However, as Bradley was accepted at Harvard Law School, it can be assumed that she did fairly well.

Graduating from Queen’s with the illustrious P.E. Newbury Prize in Family Law, Bradley began life in her newest incarnation: corporate-commercial transaction lawyer, with a specialisation in private wealth management for Fasken Martineu DuMoulin, one of the most illustrious law firms in all of Canada. How far she had come from those days in the dilapidated cottage on the banks of the Ganaraska River!

It was wanderlust rather than wayward grocery implements that changed Bradley’s life next. Looking for a new challenge, Bradley bravely decided to throw her metaphorical oar in the academic waters of the United States. Moving to Boston was a big change, especially as it is a coastal city, prone to nor’easters that would scare anyone, let alone an aquaphobe.

Of course, Bradley has always done the hard thing, and done it well. Starting her Master’s degree at Harvard Law School in the fall of 2005, Bradley decided it was time to face her nemesis head on: she joined the women’s crew team, putting her just inches above the Charles River at 6am three mornings a week. Daina Groskaufmanis, a close friend and colleague, says, “Sarah’s courage is awe-inspiring. She doesn’t let anything stop her, and is an inspiration to us all. Plus, she has the neatest shoes. She gets them off E-bay, you know.”

That is Bradley, in a nutshell: brave, composed, inspired and inspiring, scaling the heights of Kilimanjaro, swooshing around the velodrome, or whipping up a seven-course meal for five with appropriate wine parings, and all while wearing a killer pair of Jimmy Choos.

What will come next for this stellar academic, legendary cyclist, marathoner – this truly outstanding Harvard LL.M.? This humble reporter can only guess – all we can do is follow her career with awe, better scholars for having worked with her, better athletes for having run with her, better people for having known her. We will always be able to say, “I knew her when….”

[This fawning article was bought and paid for by “THE FRIENDS OF SARAH BRADLEY”, a 527 non-partisan organisation dedicated to raising awareness of the innate awesomeness of Sarah Bradley. Correspondence and donations can be forwarded to S. Bradley, President, c/o therecord@yahoo]

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