Rising Above the Odds, On and Off the Court
Issue   |   Fri, 05/22/2015 - 10:43
Photo courtesy of Megan Robertson '15

Megan Robertson is the epitome of an involved student athlete, quietly excelling at everything. From leading a championship basketball team to triple majoring in mathematics, statistics and history, Robertson does it all.

A Growing Dream

While growing up in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, Robertson had a dream — to make it big in major league baseball as the first female Red Sox player. She played baseball until fifth grade, when she said her parents made her stop playing sports with boys. She then transitioned to softball, but didn’t stop there. Robertson tried nearly all of the sports one could name: not only baseball and softball, but also volleyball, soccer, track and lacrosse. She finally honed her focus on basketball.
“I liked the sports where you just run around a lot,” Robertson said. As it turns out, you run around a heck of a lot on the basketball court.

Robertson has fond memories of playing out on the driveway, shooting hoops with her older brother and kids from around her neighborhood. She said that around first or second grade she began playing organized basketball.
She fell in love with the game from the start.

“I was always tall, so I’m sure that helped,” she said.

Her dream changed from playing for the Red Sox to playing basketball professionally. “There came that crushing realization around eighth or ninth grade that I wasn’t going to the NBA.” The NBA, mind you, not the WNBA. Robertson would not be intimidated by playing with guys.

From these early days as a blooming basketball star, the game became a bigger and bigger presence in Robertson’s life. After attending the local public elementary and middle schools, Robertson spent her high school years at Phillips Andover. It was here that hoops became even more integrated into Robertson’s life, and she played four years on the varsity team.

Though the sport took up a ton of time (sometimes Robertson had four games each weekend in high school, especially junior year when recruiting skyrockets) her love for the game continued. Throughout the year she was always excited to go to events and play, even if it meant losing an entire weekend.

“I always wanted to play in college; my dream changed freshman year of high school,” Robertson said. “Originally I thought, I’m going to play for UConn or Tennessee, but that kind of changed.”

It was this dream of playing college basketball that led her to Amherst.

Finding Her Place

Robertson said that she had never heard of Amherst growing up, despite living in the area. The college had only come to her attention through high school basketball. One of her coaches recommended she take a look at Amherst, aware Robertson was interested in a smaller liberal arts experience where she would not have to choose between high caliber play and academics. Robertson wasn’t sure what subject she wanted to pursue yet, but she did know she was interested in the same things that she appreciated in high school: accessible professors with office hours and a sense of community.

In Robertson’s words, “when I came on campus it kind of felt right.”

She never looked back.

From someone who admitted that she had no idea what she wanted academically or socially at first, Robertson certainly made some vast strides. She was always interested in history and had what she characterized as a “love/hate” relationship with math before entering college. However, after taking introductory math classes at Amherst, her mind was made up to major in both history and mathematics. She had also always been drawn to statistics, viewing it as her focus within the math major, until the statistics major was created last year. The declaration ensured Robertson would be not only a triple major, but also one of the first statistics majors to graduate from Amherst.

She describes the statistics major as something that just “fell into place,” as she had already taken classes that now count for the major before the major even existed. Robertson’s interest in statistics originally stemmed from her passion for sports, but as soon as she started to take classes in the field her interest continued to expand. She finds statistics to be applicable everywhere, as nearly every industry uses them in some way.

“I like to be handed a bunch of data and find whatever story is in them,” Robertson said.

She found parallels between history and statistics, as numbers could be interpreted different ways, just as quotations from political figures can mean different things in different settings. Robertson finds that her background in history helps her explain the meaning of statistics, giving her an advantage in the written aspects of the traditionally quantitative major.

Her interest in statistics exceeded the bounds of the classroom, as she became both one of Amherst’s first Statistics Fellows and a statistics analyst for the athletic department and statistics department.

“I have been positively impressed with her work ethic and engaging personality,” said Statistics Professor Nicholas Horton. “Megan is a mature, hard-working and organized student who has balanced her academic, athletic and work responsibilities throughout her time at Amherst.”

And of course, she continued to do what she loves in college — play basketball. However, her college basketball experience did not turn out to be what she had dreamed in high school. Leading up to her junior year, Robertson was set to break almost every record Amherst held and was a pre-season All American.

“Megan had an outstanding impact on our basketball program,” head women’s basketball coach G.P. Gromacki said. “She was the all-time leader in block shots and without a serious injury during her junior year could have easily been the all-time program leader for points and rebounds as well.”

Her hopes for the year all came crashing down during the first regular season game against Tufts. After an awkward landing, Robertson tore her ACL, MCL, meniscus, as well as chipped a bone. Though crutching around the hilly campus through the winter months on painkillers was anything but fun, Robertson said the experience was humbling. It made her much more appreciative of the different roles her teammates played, as well as the simple things —being able to walk, much less being able to play basketball. After a long rehab, Robertson tenaciously came back for her senior season, though she needed a brace and was still at risk for injury.

“As soon as I got the green light I was like I can’t let it be something that nags at the back of my mind because then I would have regretted it,” she said.

In typical fashion, Robertson gave it 100 percent, holding nothing back. And of course, now that her senior season is over, she doesn’t plan to stop just there.

“I’m planning on trying to tear up the intramural league in grad school,” Robertson boasted.

Capturing a Moment

Last year Robertson began work with the community outreach program 3D. Robertson currently co-heads 3D, which takes place every Sunday night with five to seven adults with different developmental disabilities who gather to play sports and board games.

Robertson said she sees 3D as a great way to connect with local community members, and step outside the isolating “Amherst bubble” mentality.
Her extracurricular passion has been photography. Her interest began in high school when she began to work on the yearbook. Her passion for photography took off when she was hired as a student photographer her first year at Amherst. Robertson found the job to be ideal, as she covered sports games she likely would have attended anyway. Some of her favorite memories of photography involved her taking sports pictures of friends in action — some of which remain her friends’ favorite pictures of themselves.

“I just have to take pictures of things that are already there and have to present them in a more interesting way than their typical way,” Robertson said. “Being an athlete I could understand in terms of sports pictures that the best ones aren’t always the winning shot. There’s a lot of emotion you can capture too, in terms of reactions, so I like to get those other moments as well, because they can be just as meaningful. ”

Moving Forward

While Robertson is not the type to get sentimental, in her reflection on Amherst, she said she would treasure the simple moments most — sitting out on a nice day with friends while pretending to do homework on the lawn. It turns out there is some truth behind the cliche that it’s the people here that matter most.

While her relationship with friends, teammates and professors will be treasured, Robertson looks forward to starting her two-year masters program in statistical science at Duke this August. She hopes to have a career as a statistical consultant, where she can pursue her love of discovering the story behind the numbers. While unsure of exactly what her future will hold, one thing is certain: Her impact on Amherst will not be soon forgotten.