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Breaking down barriers on the pitch and on the road

Breaking down barriers on the pitch and on the road

Having to live a double life is an unfortunate reality for many female athletes in Australia.

Some seasons don’t run all year round; others don’t pay the athletes enough to make a living. Some top-level competitions are even still semi-professional.

The lucky few are able to take up other positions within their sport while they’re on their off-season, but most are involved in one way or another in a different industry.

Australian cricketer Sammy-Jo Johnson is one of them, trading the bat and ball for the wheel when she jumps into her truck delivering frozen goods for Linfox.

Driving comes as naturally to her as bowling right arm rockets straight through the stumps of an unsuspecting batter. Much like Johnson’s sporting endeavours, trucking has been a part of her life since childhood.

“Going way back, my dad was an interstate driver for 25 years,” she says.

“I’m the eldest of three girls. He never had any boys. But he said I was the boy that he never had in a way because I was always at his back pocket.

“I always just wanted to be out in the shed, whether he was cleaning the truck, working on the truck, you know, servicing cars, like he was always hands on with that sort of stuff. And I was just always there.

“So from a young age, I always had an interest. School holidays and long weekends were spent jumping in the truck with dad and going on a long road trip. I’ve always had that love for it.”

Image: Ian Bird/Cricket NSW

Johnson earned her heavy rigid license while living in Brisbane five years ago, where she moved to begin her domestic cricket career after growing up in Lismore.

She’s now switched the Queensland maroon for the New South Wales blue, also making the shift from the Brisbane Heat to the Sydney Thunder in the Women’s Big Bash League, a move which also proved fruitful for her transport career.

The 31-year-old only briefly made use of her licence in the Sunshine State, helping out her partner on a job.

“I only used my license a couple of times up there, to be honest when we were landscaping,” Johnson explains.

“My partner, he’s a tree lopper by trade. So way back when he was working for another company, and they needed a driver so I drove the truck and chipper around up in Brisbane for a little bit, but I hadn’t really driven in a couple of years.

“Last year, I was just sort of sitting around in the offseason, bored, hadn’t had a lot to do. And I just decided to jump online and just see what was out there for a HR driver.

“Linfox had some stuff up online and I sent the resume off, never thought I’d hear anything back and week later I was in for an interview and got the job and hitting the road.

“I’m so grateful for that because it’s just it’s a tick box moment for me.

“My old man passed away when I was 19, so I know he’s looking down, going yeah girl, you got your licence and you’re out there driving it, mixing it with the boys.”

Moving from Queensland was a big turning point for Johnson, in both of her careers.

She was an inaugural Brisbane Heat player in the first Women’s Big Bash season across 2015/16, staying there until the end of the 2019/20 season.

It was there where she broke out as a Twenty20 cricketer, playing a key role in both of the Heat’s back-to-back title runs in WBBL04 and 05.

Image: Ian Bird/Cricket NSW

Success continued to follow Johnson, winning the WBBL title once again in her first year with the Sydney Thunder while being the competition’s leading wicket-taker.

Even though the following years have been leaner on the pitch, she couldn’t be happier with where her life and career are in Sydney.

“I think the first few months moving here was a bit of a shock to the system,” Johnson says.

“It was during COVID so it was a crappy time for everyone. To finally live a little bit of a normal lifestyle out here, I don’t mind being in Western Sydney. We’re in the heartland of the Thunder.

“From a cricket point of view, I love my group and I love my coaching staff. We’ve got a pretty amazing facility at Cricket Central now, no doubt probably one of the best in the world that I’ve used, I’m pretty lucky to call it our home.

“And I love driving, you’re in your own space and you’re out on the open road.

“I know I’m in metropolitan Sydney, but I get to go for a run up to Katoomba. You go up to Winmalee up on the mountains. Like it’s nice to cruise up there at 5am in the morning. You get the roads to yourself.

“I haven’t had a lot of time over the Big Bash, but the guys at Linfox are really good. They look after me and when I get the chance to jump back behind the wheel I’m straight there because I absolutely love it.”

The only thing that Johnson doesn’t like about trucking is that she doesn’t get to more of it!

With the expansion of women’s cricket in Australia over the past decade, female cricketers are playing more matches more often.

The WBBL just finished its ninth edition as the top T20 competition for women in Australia – and probably the world – while the Women’s National Cricket League is giving more players opportunities to play the one-day game than ever.

With regular competitions also being played in India, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, players are also able to take their game overseas in the Australian off-season.

“Obviously, the game is growing, which is great for women’s cricket, great for women’s sport in the country,” Johnson says.

“And we need more hours to keep getting better as players. So I’m sort of restricted a little bit more. If I was a driver five years ago, I would have been working full time more than I was playing cricket.

“But the way that the game is growing I don’t have as many hours because they expect us to be there to keep getting fitter and stronger and try and whack the ball a bit further and bowl a bit quicker. So cricket takes priority.

“The guys at Linfox have been outstanding with flexibility and just allow me to jump in when I can. And like I said any chance I can jump out at I do to get back on the wheel because I really enjoy it.”

Image: Ian Bird/Cricket NSW

One similarity between the world of sport and transport is that they are primarily male-dominated industries.

It’s a fact that Johnson isn’t unfamiliar with, yet she says she has never felt intimidated by it. If anything, it’s just another opportunity to prove herself.

“Everything in my life that I have chosen for some reason happens to be just a male dominated industry,” she laughs.

“And I don’t know why I gravitate towards that. But I think it’s just because I enjoy the challenge of doing things that most females wouldn’t have done.

“Growing up, I didn’t have a female cricketer that I idolised, because I didn’t know that there were female cricketers. I thought I was unique.

“It’s the same from a job point of view. I’ve done landscaping now truck driving, I enjoy my motorsport. I just love getting out and doing things that aren’t mainstream. And I love the challenge of that.

“And of course you come across people that go ‘you’re not good enough to do this, you shouldn’t be here, what are you doing here’, but you’ve just got to have thick skin.

“I think I just let my ability in whatever that skill is show because I know I can drive.”

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