They come from big cities, small towns and remote areas all over Australia and beyond; their ages range across many decades, they have wildly varying career histories, professional backgrounds and qualifications – but the 35 people immersed in the Digital Health CRC / MyScoreIT / Microsoft/ BizData datathon this month have something in common: they are all dead-keen to learn how to wrangle health data into submission.

Datathons, data science, using Power BI and Azure are all very new to Amity Chan, from St Vincent’s Hospital. That’s OK, she is here for the long haul. Amity is in training for her first full marathon in October after running plenty of half-marathons. But Amity says that she’s not put off by the steep learning curve for the datathon. “It may be difficult now but I believe I will get there, as training up for a marathon is the same. Marathoners can’t run a marathon without weeks of training, and I believe this will require a similar effort.”

It’s not so new for Associate Professor Phil Newman, a sports physiotherapist who has worked with the Australian Defence Force. When he’s not at the University of Canberra, teaching undergraduates and running research projects on high-performance jet pilots, Phil breeds alpacas – and has designed a machine learning algorithm that can identify the father of an alpaca based on fleece characteristics. “Pretty nerdy!” he admits.

Medical anthropologist Carol Pizzuti is not just nimble with data, she’s also fleet-footed, cleaning up prizes on the dance floor with her samba, salsa and bachata. When she’s not dancing and lifting weights, Carol is completing her PhD at the University of Sydney. “I think the datathon is as challenging as learning a new style of dancing – and equally satisfying,” she says.

Rushi Ladani from La Trobe University is a keen musician, music manager, video editor and hiker. At just 18, Rushi’s band – ‘Counteract’ – released a progressive rock album which did pretty well in his then-hometown of Ahmedabad, India, and more recently, Rushi has hiked through Nepal and across Mt Hotham.

Rushi finds video conferences less daunting than large audiences and says they encourage people to participate more. “I love everyone’s active involvement in the datathon and cannot wait to dive deep into data and find meaningful insights for improved patient health outcomes,” he said.

One person who hasn’t shied away from a deep dive into the unknown is Lindy Lafontaine, from St Vincent’s Hospital – despite not knowing how to swim, last year Lindy joined the Melbourne Surge water-polo team. Lindy is also an active ally for St Vincent’s LGBTQI+ safety and responsiveness group.

But the last word on all things datathon comes from resident Hat Fancier (and Lecturer in Health Information Management at La Trobe University), Jenn Lee. “I’m obsessed with hats,” she confesses. However: “I will be taking my hat off to the most excellent participants and facilitators involved in the datathon.”

“We couldn’t ask for more,” says Dr Melanie Haines, Education Manager at the Digital Health CRC.