Life Of Two Halves: Maeve McKenny
Pharmacist by day, lacrosse player by night, Maeve McKenny knows about balancing her time: “To decompress from work and the stresses of life, ‘lacrosse Maeve’ likes to crack a few jokes”
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 – and national lacrosse player for Wales by night. Anyone would think the dream of being an elite competitor in your chosen sport must be something you have doggedly chased from childhood 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 boarded at 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 laughs. 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 says). Yet she tells me there wasn’t one defining moment that made her realise she could pursue lacrosse seriously on a national stage. “It slowly seeped in,” she explains. “Throughout school, I played 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 found I immediately loved it again.”
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 pharmaceutical industry was a steady burn she sort-of fell into. “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 continues. “I was looking at courses and didn’t really have much direction. Mum, who was an orthodontist, said, ‘You should find 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 thought, I don’t like reading enough so I can’t do law and I haven’t done any of the exams to get into medicine – pharmacy it is.”
Although taking early 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 a Surrey club, as well as attending national squad weekends in Wales every few weeks. Maeve admits 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 21st 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 acknowledges. I suspect this unfussy approach is the key to Maeve’s success. She makes no bones that pharmacy is hard work and that being on a national lacrosse team is hard work. There’s simply no way around it.
“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 to do something, Maeve very much believes there’s a way.
“Management always does their best to try and work with us,” she says. “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 sometimes she’s 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 says.
But she goes on to identify attributes which overlap from her two worlds. “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 this transfers into my role at work, too, like seeking out knowledge and always wanting to be better for myself – but also, for my patients.” Maeve took one of the world’s biggest health crises in her stride and counts her surgery’s Covid vaccine clinics as a highlight. “Those clinics were super rewarding,” she explains. “Everything was being done by telephone at first so it was lovely when I could actually meet our patients and get them vaccinated. It was quite emotional.”
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 explains. 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 says 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 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 giggles. “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.” Maeve is currently training for next month’s Home International matches to be played in Edinburgh, at which she hopes to prove her worth and fulfil one of two ambitions over the next 12 months – to be selected for the 2022 World Lacrosse Championship, in Maryland, US, in June, and conquering her prescribing qualifications. Each of those goals on their own is significant enough to sink your teeth into, nonetheless given Maeve’s unconditional enthusiasm for both her pharmacy career and lacrosse, she doesn’t sound fazed at all.