SPA-tlight: Orla O’Doherty

Orla O’Doherty, Squash Director at the Santa Barbara School of Squash and Head Pro at the Santa Barbara Athletic Club

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Portmarnock, Dublin, Ireland. I lived there until I was 19.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.43.09 AMHow did you get involved with squash?
When I was about 9 or 10, my mum was quite ill and spent a lot of time in the hospital. My dad would take care of my brother and I after school by taking us to his weekly squash games. At first, we would sit and watch, and eventually realized that rather than stare at the empty courts while he was showering, we would give it a try ourselves. It was “while we wait” squash.

Did any other family member’s play?
Finbarr, my older brother, also started playing at that time. We both represented the Irish National Teams for many years.

Who was your first teacher?
My dad was my first teacher. He wasn’t much better than a C player but he got me started out. When he was alive, we always joked about how he retired his racket after I beat him at the age of 12. I miss my dad. He was my biggest fan throughout my playing career. My first official coach was Alan Jerrold who, for many years, coached and managed the Irish National Teams.

Did you play other sports?
Yes, at school I played soccer, gaelic football, and camogie. I also competed in Irish Dancing. Don’t laugh, but at age 13, I was forced to choose between squash and Irish Dancing. People tease me when I tell that story, but it was a devastating decision. I’d like to think I made the right decision! And happy to say that I can still do the best jig at any party.

As a side note, you should know that I also applied to be a nun at age 18. I was turned down. They said I had “too much to offer the world in other ways”. TRUE STORY.

How long have you lived in Santa Barbara and what are the differences?
I’m in my second year in Santa Barbara. It is the only club in the area. It’s a laid back environment with about 150 active players. Working on the east coast was a little more hectic, with several coaches working at each club constantly. People are definitely more competitive back east. When I came here, Debbie Brown and I ran the program together for a year until she took over as Executive Director of the Santa Barbara School of Squash. So, as Head Pro now, I do 80% of the lessons myself. Many players are not interested in competing outside of the odd tournament here and there. Most of them are happy to take a lesson, play their league matches, and have fun with it. I have social events every month that get everyone out to have a good time on and off the court. It’s a real tribute to how this game gathers people together. There are several of the pros out here—Kim Clearkin, JP Rothie for example—who are trying to spread the word about U.S. SQUASH and grow California Squash. I think in the next 3 years, we’ll see a boom. Our junior program in Santa Barbara is rapidly growing. Mike Lewis is a senior at Dartmouth, and Tommy Mullaney is a freshman starting at Harvard. both learned how to play squash in Santa Barbara. Nicole Feshbach is on her quest to play college squash and is already ranked in the top 50 Girls Under 19, in her junior year. There aren’t nearly as many juniors as on the east coast, but those who play are making their mark. Other kids are starting to notice and want to play. It’s somewhat refreshing that things are so new here. We just introduced a new mini-squash program for kids ages 3-6 and it’s hugely popular. Our urban program is also growing and Debbie has 25 active kids. I’m the part-time squash director and love that I can work with these kids. Having spent six years with Greg Zaff at SquashBusters, it is such a joy to be in this environment again.