Black Caps bowler Blair Tickner is used to doing things in threes. It was an impressive hat-trick for the Central Stags in 2017 that first put him in the sporting spotlight, but the trio of events that have unfolded for him over the past year casts even that achievement in the shade.
First came marriage, then his New Zealand test debut against England in mid-February and now, saving the best till last, he and wife Sarah will welcome a baby girl in a few weeks.
"I grew up in a big family of six kids, so this is something I've always wanted and I'm really ready for it," says Blair, 29, as he cuddles Sarah, 32, in the nursery of their sunny Hastings villa, where old childhood toys are mixed with all the exciting new trappings needed for nailing life as new parents.
While the couple both grew up in Hawke's Bay and even attended the same primary school a few years apart, it wasn't until a mutual friend introduced the pair on Christmas Eve four years ago that they met and had "instant chemistry", as he says.
Despite being dressed as an elf, Blair's smile caught Sarah's eye and things moved quickly from there. While Blair's cricket commitments with Central Districts and rapid elevation to the Black Caps meant the new couple were often apart, they moved in together within a few months and life has been in fast-forward ever since.
"At the time, Blair was opening his café, 13th Stag, then his career took off, we bought a house, got married, got a dog and now we're having a baby," laughs Sarah. "Life is so busy, but it's fun."
She says their different personalities and shared values will set them up well for parenthood – and the rest they'll just make up as they go.
"Blair has a calm head and knows how to chill me out, while I know how to pull him in line," she smiles. "We are level-headed people and both very family-oriented. The love and unconditional support we've both received from our parents is a tradition we want to carry on."
Family support is something the couple have had to demonstrate more than ever this year, with Blair's father's home right in the path of Cyclone Gabrielle as it ripped through Napier and his lifestyle property at Awatoto only one day after Blair's test cricket debut.
Blair left Hawke's Bay the day before the cyclone to go to Mount Maunganui for the test against England and soon realised his family would be unable to be there for the moment he'd spent his life working towards.
With communications to Hawke's Bay virtually severed, it wasn't until his return after the test that he understood the extent of the destruction.
"I'd seen videos of the area, but it isn't until you're standing there and see everything your family has worked towards destroyed that you realise," he tells. "Even then, it's very hard to comprehend."
With the support of New Zealand Cricket, which gave Blair leave to focus on the recovery, and 15 of his team-mates from the Central Stags, the athlete swapped a cricket ball for a spade in an attempt to clear some of the debris and silt from his dad's place and those of his neighbours.
Even though it felt like an insurmountable task, the process had an unexpected silver lining. Blair tells, "COVID really pushed people apart and we all did our own thing, so it was awesome to see all of Hawke's Bay pull together and to be a part of it."
There were tense times, though, not least when they were evacuated by men in hazmat suits after chemical contamination from a nearby industrial area. Sarah recalls, "I told them I was pregnant and they just said, 'You need to get out of here and get to the doctor straight away.'"
As the country rallied behind Hawke's Bay and other regions hit hardest by the cyclone, Blair fronted New Zealand Cricket and ANZ's "Pitch In" campaign, which saw $1.4 million raised for the New Zealand Red Cross Disaster Fund.
It's this kind of support that has Blair feeling confident the new family dynamics will work out well, despite the heavy travel commitments that come with being a Black Cap.
"A lot of cricketers travel now with their families," he explains. "I was in England last year, and all the guys had their partners and kids with them. It was an awesome environment to be in.
"New Zealand Cricket really supports families. It's easy to think a cricketer is an intimidating guy on the field, but deep down, we're all soft and love our families. I can't wait to be a dad."
After what has mostly been an easy pregnancy, apart from a little tiredness and being diagnosed with anaemia at 20 weeks, Sarah says the best moment will be meeting their daughter for the first time and then learning what sort of person she's going to be.
Unconsciously rubbing her belly, Sarah muses, "I'm looking forward to the relationship I'm going to have with her. With Blair away a lot, she's definitely going to be my little buddy."
Meanwhile, Blair is looking forward to the fun of muddling along as new parents – hopefully without resorting to Google too much – and just allowing their daughter to "figure out who she is as a person while we give her the best opportunities possible".
They'll certainly be setting a fantastic example of "the family that plays together stays together". As well as travelling on the cricket circuit, the couple runs the busy café 13th Stag at the Mitre 10 Sports Park between Hastings and Napier, a venture that flowed naturally on from Blair's hospitality background and previous business running a coffee cart.
"When we opened in 2019, I didn't know how crazy it was going to be," he admits. "We were working seven days a week for months on end to get it off the ground, but then it wasn't long before COVID hit and my cricket career took off.
"It's been a very stressful few years with the way hospo has been, but we are really supportive of each other. The challenges of running a small business have made us resilient and it has really helped us as a couple. It can be a lonely place at times, so to be in it together helps a lot."
Now with an amazing team and the future looking brighter, the pair are excited to step back a little from café life to focus on the baby, cricket and each other.
"The cyclone has put things in perspective for us," says Sarah. "We've seen how quickly things can be taken away from you. For us, we need to start to appreciate the good things in our lives, reflect and take stock of what we have achieved."
With their biggest achievement due at the end of July, Sarah has her hospital bag packed and Blair is well-briefed on his role for a successful birth: "Don't forget the snacks!" he laughs.
- Celebrity NewsPeter Urlich and his perfect match with wife Danielle
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyToday 7:00am
- Celebrity NewsHow boss babe Madison Reidy created her own dream job
Woman's DayYesterday 5:00pm
- CompetitionsBe in to win a huge book prize package valued at $650!
Now To LoveYesterday 9:00am
- Real LifeWhy a brain injury won't stop Miriam Ellis from getting back on her bike
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyDec 03, 2023
- CompetitionsBe in to win a Bondi Sands care package worth $200
Now To LoveDec 02, 2023
- Celebrity NewsFormer Shortland Street star Holly Shervey's wild year
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyDec 01, 2023
- Celebrity NewsTeuila Blakely reflects on the job that changed her life
Woman's DayDec 01, 2023
- Celebrity NewsThe Breeze host Robert Scott on what he loves most about Christmas
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyNov 30, 2023
- Celebrity NewsOlympic hero Ellesse Andrews' secret to her success
Woman's DayNov 30, 2023
- Celebrity NewsCoast radio host Jason Reeves on his favourite Christmas childhood memories
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyNov 30, 2023
- Real LifeBoxing’s power couple: Alina and Isaac are changing lives
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyNov 29, 2023