BY MARGOT BUTCHER REPUBLISHED FROM OUTRIGHT #50
In a parallel universe, Lucy Doolan would be a mechanic. Or even a builder, if she was a wee bit bigger. She’d have taken it up straight out of school. She’d be a zen mechanic, not too hard on herself, happy as Larry tinkering around fixing things and problem-solving with engines. Bliss.
But who among us steps straight out of school into a dream job — or even knows what that might look like?
In the real world, fresh out of school Doolan trained to be a nurse, and later studied viticulture, and then became a certified horticulturalist who ended up driving a desk at a council in between endless stakeholder meetings. A zig-zag of a career path, and in the midst of all this she of course squeezed in a flourishing cricket career with Wellington Blaze and the White Ferns, playing 73 matches & taking 60 wickets for her country — as well as a few overseas gigs playing seasons in South Australia and England.
So, you’ll never guess what Doolan’s doing now (unless you, too, happen to have developed an obsession with ceramic tiling on social media). That was how her latest career started: by innocently tapping some posts and pages about making ceramic tiles. Nek minnit, more and more tiling posts and reels in her feed…
“It’s so millennial!” she laughs. “I’d also seen on the ol’ social media some posts about women in trades; the push to get more women into apprenticeships. Having done horticulture, I already had a practical background — and was interested.”
“Seeing people out there making these beautiful tiles and what that does for a space: to learn how to make something like that, I realised you have to know how people will eventually work with it so the idea of a tiling apprenticeship started to intrigue me. I was also realising, at the time, that being in an office environment wasn’t really me — I found I just had too much energy to burn and would get up, wander around and annoy people!”
Having worked at Hamilton Garden while she studied horticulture through Wintec, Doolan had returned to the capital to work as a gardener, initially, for Wellington City Council, then moved into the management of sports fields stakeholders — combining twin interests.
“But it had become a life of constant meetings, and I had that gnawing feeling of wanting to get back on the tools again. So, all of that slowly gelled together, and I decided I would really like to give the tiling apprenticeship a shot.”
And here she is, having just downed her trowel for the day. She started her apprenticeship with Wellington’s Chris Black Tiling on 8 March — just a week after she had bought and moved into a new house with her sister. But then, female cricketers are used to being busy people juggling a whole lot of balls.
A tiling apprenticeship typically takes two to three years, or until you get up to scratch with all the skills and get the paperwork done which includes logging and photographing work. Already she can farm herself out on weekends to do a cheeky little splashback.
“I wouldn’t tackle floors or bathroom walls on my own yet, but I’m loving learning all about it from Chris, and I get really excited when we have a client who wants a bit more than subway tiles, something really creative and different, bold — those are fun jobs that challenge you a bit more. Shows like The Block are helping inspire people beyond charcoal floor tiles or white subways on the walls and you get that real sense of accomplishment, from walking into a blank space to leaving the client with a completely finished, good-looking job. I think it’s a really cool trade in that respect because often tradies are only involved in part of a bigger job.”
Practical. Attention to detail. Courage to give new things a go and learn new things. Take all that as read with Doolan — but she did need a gentle push, after having spent a full two years thinking about tiling every day without making the final jump into an apprenticeship.
“Obviously it was going to be a big change for me going from a secure employer and pretty comfortable earnings — I was at Wellington City Council for six years — to chucking that in and jumping into tiling on an apprenticeship wage, and I wasn’t quite sure what was involved. So through the CPA, Jo Murray set up a coffee with Paddy Kymbrekos, a local business strategy manager with the BCITO Sport initiative which helps connect sports people with apprenticeships.
“Paddy was really great in helping me understand what an apprenticeship looks like, and how they help — and, there no pressure at all. He said, ‘When you are ready, sent your CV through to me and we’ll match you to someone’.
“It was actually a whole year later when I felt ready. I needed that space to make the move mentally, so it was almost out of the blue when I contacted Paddy again, and yet he picked it up like it was just yesterday. That was how I was connected to Chris to start my apprenticeship, and I am absolutely loving it. I’m enjoying being out and about again and doing something practical again.”
The pot-pourri of past métiers have all come in handy, proving the old adage that skills — even cricket skills — are transferable into other jobs. “If you have put your energy into learning something, you’re never starting at zero,” says Doolan, “even if on the surface they seem totally different worlds or skills.
“From my horticultural gardening to the relationships role at council, some of those skills were transferable to the way I now approach tiling and talking to clients. Plus, tiling is pretty finicky, you have definitely got to have an eye for detail to avoid things going south quickly! You’ve also got a saw in your hands buzzing way trying to shave a mere millimetre off a tile so you’ve got to have good concentration and precision — and I think most cricketers would relate to those skills as part of your mental skillset.”
An opening batter and off-spinner, Doolan had debuted for Wellington Blaze straight out of Hutt Valley High School in 2004, at 18. She retired from cricket in March 2019 — the second time she had stepped back from the game. “I had had two or three years off a few years before that, then the WBBL started up and the Blaze’s senior players were heading over there to play.
“I was asked if I could come back and provide some help to the younger ones coming through in the Blaze, so I came back — and really enjoyed it.
“There was no longer that weight of expectation I felt when I was younger — pressure that mainly came from myself — to make teams, make selections for the White Ferns. It was a nice space to be in. Being a bit older and not so hard on yourself, that’s strength that comes with age, eh? Once upon a time if I got out cheaply, I used to take it so personally and I laugh now when I think about it — we all know half the game is down to luck!”
Doolan found that trying to do it all when she was younger was difficult — no contracts existed when she was starting out. Her nursing studies eventually gave way to cricket ambitions, and she took off to play a domestic season in South Australia, which is where a trip to the Barossa Valley inspired her to try a viticulture course. Later she played for Nottinghamshire and Essex, in between 98 one-dayers and 62 T20s for the Blaze.
She represented the White Ferns at the 2009 and 2013 one-day World Cups, and three T20 World Cups, “but finding a balance to do everything was always really hard. On the other hand, we played at Lord’s a few times, and the experiences, long-lasting friendships and development that you can get through cricket as a younger person, those are the things you would not trade for the world.”
Since hanging up the boots, she’s been enjoying popping back into the Basin to watch her old team. “It’s nice to see a few good little spinners coming through in the Blazies. And it’s nice to sit up on the bank in the sunshine and just watch!”
At home, Doolan does the gardening and DIY around the house. Her sister is the one with the design eye who’s in charge of choosing the fab curtains. Looking back, a trade always made sense, and being paid as you learn is a bonus for young cricketers considering an apprenticeship, she reflects.
“I think it’s cool that there has been more highlighting of the option for women to get into the trades, as well. You are learning skills that you have for life. And maybe down the track I’ll get myself a kiln and be that little old lady on Instagram who makes tiles!”