Equal Passion For Work And Play
A pharmacist by day and playing lacrosse at club and national level for Wales at night and at weekends, means that Maeve McKenny’s life is very much an act of plate-spinning
By Emma Taylor
Leading a double life for some might mean a side hustle, a hobby, or hiding a secret, crime-fighting alter ego. For Maeve McKenny, 26, her Clark Kent lifestyle sees her as an NHS pharmacist in Tooting by day, but national lacrosse player for Wales by night and at weekends. Anyone would think the dream of being an elite competitor in your chosen sport must’ve been doggedly chased from birth, but Maeve opens up straight away that was not quite the case for her journey. In fact, she hadn’t even heard of lacrosse until around the grand old age of 11.
“I actually grew up in London and then went to a boarding secondary school. It was kind of Hogwarts-esque I guess, getting shipped off to school with your trunk. Then I started playing this weird game,” Maeve laughed. She instantly fell for the fast-paced nature of lacrosse, as well as the physicality it demanded and the skill required to keep up. This passion pushed Maeve to work hard at the game through school (“I was so bad when I was younger,” she said). Yet, she told me there wasn’t one defining moment that made her realise she could pursue lacrosse seriously on a national stage. “It slowly seeped in. Throughout school, I used to do county lacrosse. Then I went off on my gap year, where I didn’t really do anything. I came back to go to university and then just immediately loved it again,” she said.
Studying pharmacy at Cardiff University was Maeve’s ‘in’ to getting a spot on the Welsh lacrosse squad as the university was involved in open trials. However, even choosing a path towards the pharmacy industry was a steady burn she sort of fell into. Maeve said: “I was horse mad and wanted to be a showjumper, probably until I was about 16, then my mum gave me a reality check,” she continued, “I was looking at courses and didn’t really have much direction. Mum, an orthodontist, said ‘You should do a profession.’ I helped out during my gap year at her dental clinics and saw some horrible things, so dentistry was a no for me. I don’t like reading enough so I can’t do law, I haven’t done any of the exams to get into medicine – pharmacy it is.”
Although taking the very first steps as a clinical pharmacist in a general practice, Maeve’s still flinging her all at lacrosse “for as long as my body will allow.” From turning up to work with a lacrosse stick tied to her bag (much to the bemused queries from colleagues) to cycling off for an evening speed session, Maeve plays for Blues Lacrosse Club in Surrey, as well as attending national squad weekends in Wales every few weeks. Maeve admitted she’s a burn-the-candle-at-both-ends type of person and juggling her pharmacy career with lacrosse life is very much an act of plate-spinning.
“I always seem to be unable to go on family holidays and I miss big events like twenty-first birthday parties. It’s never been a sacrifice for me because I understand it’s part of the process. It’s just doing what you can, when you can,” she acknowledged. I suspect this unfussy approach is the key to Maeve’s success. She makes no bones that pharmacy is hard work, that being on a national lacrosse team is hard work. There’s simply no way around it.
Maeve said: “I love training. I love being able to play. It’s something I just love to do. Obviously, there are good days and bad days. You question your choices on a rainy, cold morning at 6am in December, but for the moments when you’re out representing your country, it doesn’t seem like a sacrifice at all.” From squeezing in exam revision on her lunch break during training days, to keeping the squad’s management happy, where there’s a will do to something, Maeve very much believes there’s a way.
She shared: “Management always do their best to try and work with us. They understand we have full-time jobs in order to pay for lacrosse. If we want to go on tours, this is all self-funded. They understand our work lives are also a big part of our ability to play at the top level. So everybody is super supportive and everybody helps each other.” With two giant threads of focus running through her day-to-day, understandably Maeve feels as though she’s sometimes two different people. “I definitely am two Maeves,” she agreed. “My role in Wales lacrosse is a lot different to my role as ‘pharmacist Maeve.’ When I’m at squad I’m lighthearted, then work is quite serious. To decompress from work and the stresses of life, ‘lacrosse Maeve’ likes to crack a few jokes,” she said.
But she goes on to identify attributes which overlap from her two worlds. She said: “It’s very cliché, but both require motivation and dedication. There’s also a desire to develop your lacrosse ID and get to know the game better. I’ve noticed that transfers into my role at work too, like seeking out knowledge and always wanting to be better for myself, but also, for my patients.” While only at the beginning of her medical vocation (she started her current job four months ago), Maeve’s taken one of the world’s biggest health crises in her stride and counts her surgery’s COVID vaccine clinics as a highlight of her short career to date. “Those are super rewarding,” Maeve excitedly gushed. “We hold one or two a week. Since I’ve joined, everything has been on the telephone so far. It’s lovely to actually be able to meet our patients and get them vaccinated. It’s quite emotional,” she said.
As for the future of lacrosse, Maeve’s a huge advocate for dispelling preconceived notions around the sport. “Everyone always thinks ‘Oh it’s a posh sport, it’s that one in the film ‘Wild Child,’ but once they actually get playing, it’s such an amazing game,” she said. She’s seen firsthand (and on a smaller scale) how the popularity of lacrosse can grow into a mainstream sport. Recalling her time at university, she said they went from having a first team and a second beginner team initially. This grew to a first, second, third and a separate team for beginners when she graduated a few years later. The steady rise of lacrosse in the global public consciousness is also gaining momentum, as part of the 2017 World Cup was televised by the BBC and it’s looking very likely a tweaked six vs six format will be part of the 2028 summer Olympics in LA.
In terms of promotion on home soil, Maeve describes a grassroots programme in Wales that introduces school children to the game and she, herself, spreads the lacrosse word wherever an opportunity emerges. “I was at the gym the other day, and I overheard somebody say the word ‘lacrosse.’ My ears pricked up!” she giggled. “This was somebody who just started playing at uni, they were a beginner and they were saying they enjoyed it. I jumped in and told them there are clubs all over London which cater to all kinds of abilities,” she said. Maeve’s ambitions for the next twelve months include the lacrosse 2022 World Cup, held in Maryland, USA, and conquering her prescribing qualifications at the same time. Each of those goals on their own is significant enough to sink your teeth into, nonetheless given Maeve’s unconditional enthusiasm for both pharmacy and lacrosse, she didn’t sound fazed at all.