Field hockey’s Fitzgerald a rare musical athlete

Posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010

Megan Fitzgerald survived three years of varsity field hockey with her hands and fingers relatively unscathed – an important achievement for someone whose other passion is playing the piano. The fourth-year piano performance student grew in an athletic and musical family on a farm in rural Ontario. / Photo: Owen Egan

Piano playing midfielder comfortable on pitch and stage

By Jim Hynes

Megan Fitzgerald doesn’t put much stock in stereotypes, especially the one that says you can’t be athletic and “artsy” at the same time. Not that there’s any artsy pretension from Fitzgerald, who grew up on her family’s beef cattle farm in the tiny Ontario community of Maple Leaf.

The fourth-year Piano Performance student at the Schulich School of Music has spent her time at McGill preparing for both piano recitals and rough and tumble field hockey games as a midfielder and forward on the Martlets. Talk about a study in contrasts.

Indeed, a search of McGill varsity athletes by faculty turns up less than a handful of Music students. But Fitzgerald has been a good athlete and musician for pretty much her whole life. Growing up on a farm with three brothers certainly made her a tough competitor on the field of play, just as taking up musical instruments at a young age served her well in piano competitions later on. She started playing piano at age 4.

“My parents both came from musical families. They both play the piano, so it was just natural for me to learn. My brothers and I also played fiddle as well,” Fitzgerald said. “We grew up playing old-time Canadian fiddle music and step dancing. There was a time when I was more involved in that than in the piano.”

Lured by the big city

Speaking of contrasts, Fitzgerald says the city of Montreal had a lot to do with her choosing to come to McGill in the first place.

“When I visited McGill, I really loved the school and it has a good reputation and the teachers are great. Something about it just drew me here,” she said. “Maybe because it was the most different from where I’m from.”

It didn’t hurt that McGill had a field hockey team either. Fitzgerald discovered the game back in high school through a teacher hailing from the sport’s Canadian hotbed of British Columbia.

“She was a competitive person and I am too, that’s why we got along so well,” Fitzgerald said.

That competitiveness served her well on the field hockey squad, says Vimal Patel, an assistant coach with the Martlets.

“Megan is really a tireless worker. She’s not the biggest player, but she’s extremely tenacious and plays with a lot of confidence and always carries out any role given to her with full effort. She never gives up.”

Fitzgerald also managed the feat of surviving three years of university field hockey relatively unscathed in terms of injuries, especially to her hands – which is a big deal when tickling the ivories is such an important part of your life.

“It can be scary, the sticks and the ball are pretty hard,” Fitzgerald said. “A lot of people do get hurt. I’ve been hit on my hands before and gotten bruises, but I’ve been lucky to not ever be seriously injured.”

Fitzgerald is scheduled to graduate in the spring, but not before performing the second of the two major recitals needed to complete her program.

“Recitals are a lot of fun, and a little scary, too. I’ve been working a whole year towards this one big concert. So there’s a lot of weight and pressure on that one performance,” she said.

But if anyone can handle that pressure, it’s Fitzgerald.

“I grew up on the stage, fiddling and in other kinds of competitions, so I’m really comfortable doing that.”

Fitzgerald plans to take a year off school after graduation, and is considering pursuing a medical degree after that. And why not? The “musical doctor” has a nice ring to it too.

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