It shouldn’t be a surprise if Maggie Shaw runs across the McKenzie Arena stage during University of Tennessee at Chattanooga commencement ceremonies.
Shaw, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in nursing on Saturday, Dec. 17, has spent plenty of time running as a defender on the UTC soccer team since coming to Chattanooga in 2018.
A native of Columbia, South Carolina, she played in a program-record 85 matches for the Mocs—logging nearly 7,700 minutes on the pitch—and was a three-time all-Southern Conference first-team selection and a two-time SoCon Defensive Player of the Year.
This fall, she helped lead the team to its first-ever regular-season conference title. She did that while literally running back and forth between soccer activities and the rigors of being a nursing student.
“I had class from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” she said of her final semester Thursdays, “and I would leave practice 30 minutes early and run to the nursing building.”
Majoring in nursing is particularly grueling for student-athletes.
Tessa Mullinax-Baker, the Mary B. Jackson clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing, said there have only been a few student-athletes going through that program since she joined the UTC faculty in 2012.
“I think about her early mornings and really late nights and the sacrifices she had to make in finding that balance,” Mullinax-Baker said.
“While most students struggle to get to class on time, Maggie has already been to a workout that morning. After a win, Maggie would have to go home to study instead of celebrating with her team because she had a big test that next day.”
Gavin McKinney, the UTC soccer head coach since 2014, said Shaw is only the second nursing student he’s coached.
“I know there’s a lot of programs in the country that would deter student-athletes from taking nursing, but I’m the complete opposite. I’ll support these ladies in whatever they want to study. They just have to be able to manage it correctly,” he said.
“Maggie’s shown you can study anything while still accomplishing pretty big things in your athletic field.”
McKinney talked about an overall team effort between athletics and nursing, saying that he met with nursing personnel to ensure that both sides understood the demands of Shaw’s schedule.
Soccer meant practices, games and travel. Nursing meant clinicals and simulations. There’s no wiggle room with either.
“On days Maggie was doing 12-hour shifts in the hospital, she was expected to get a workout in with us,” McKinney said, “or maybe she did an early morning training session that we had before she went on her day with the nursing work. It takes time management, dedication, focus, you name it, to be able to do both of those—and she did it at a high level.
“Look, if you want to do what Maggie’s done on the field—being an all-conference player and Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year—that takes an amazing amount of dedication and focus. Just the same, to be able to get through the nursing program, you can’t slack in any way, shape or form.”
The athletic portion of Shaw’s DNA is easy to explain. Her father, David, appeared in 769 National Hockey League games from 1982 to 1998. Her mother, Trish Little, was a volleyball player at the University of South Carolina. Her older sisters, Jamie and Danielle, played soccer at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina.
And most of her Mocs soccer play career occurred alongside her fraternal twin, Samantha, who received a bachelor’s degree in health and human performance in May 2022.
The nursing profession, though, does not share similar family bloodlines.
“Growing up, my mom was always saying to us, ‘If I could go back and do one thing, it’d be nursing,’” Shaw said with a laugh. “Honestly, we didn’t have any healthcare workers in my family.
“From my perspective, nursing seemed like a job with multiple options. If you don’t want one part of nursing, there are always 10 other options. I thought that being on my feet all day in the nursing world would transfer over so well from being a student-athlete, and the more I looked into it, nursing was something I wanted to get into.”
As McKinney said, “The student-athlete part is extremely difficult, but I think it prepares them for life. Maggie should be more than prepared for it because she just went through an extremely difficult, rigorous education with the nursing program while being a high achiever on the pitch.”
Shaw did acknowledge that the soccer/nursing combination caused her to miss out on certain aspects of the college experience.
“Definitely. I do feel like I missed out on a lot,” she said. “I have friends who will be doing something like going to a basketball game or just some event, and it’s ‘FOMO’—fear of missing out. But at the end of the day, sometimes you’re just so exhausted and you need your sleep.
“You always remind yourself, ‘I’m doing this because I want to do this. It’s going to be worth it. Even if you’re missing out now, you’re setting yourself up for success in the future.’”
After missing out on plenty of student activities, who can blame her if she is enthusiastic upon hearing her name called at commencement?
“Being in the nursing field, you’re in the same class with the same students for the past two years and I’ve developed really good relationships with these people,” Shaw said. “We all wanted to be in the nursing program so bad—especially at UTC because it’s so competitive—so finally getting to walk across the stage will be a huge relief.
“I did that. I accomplished that. That’s why I think I’m going to run across the stage. I’m going to be that excited.”