The second season of Conversations for Change features casual conversations with some of the University of Michigan’s brightest students, faculty, and leaders and best. In this episode, U-M Social intern Cam Turner, class of 2022, interviews student-athlete Maggie MacNeil.
In January 2021, Maggie MacNeil of the U-M women’s swimming and diving team received a nomination for something that many young athletes aspire to throughout their careers—she was invited to represent Team Canada at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.
MacNeil, a third-year student-athlete who hails from London, Ontario, was named to the roster for the 100-meter butterfly. The holder of nine school records (individual and relay), she is among the best swimmers in U-M program history, and is a 14-time CSCAA All-American and 14-time Big Ten champion. She was also named Big Ten Swimmer of the Year in 2020.
“I always wanted to go to the Olympics, like most little kids do,” she says. “I never really thought that that would actually happen, because I think 1 percent of the population goes to compete at the Olympics. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
With so many uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MacNeil is just hopeful that the Olympics will take place.
“So much can change between now and six months [from now], and even between now and next week. So I’m just working on putting my head down and getting that final push toward the meet, and hopefully it will happen,” she says.
Despite her many accolades and achievements, MacNeil continues to set goals for her U-M swimming career. There are a couple of things she still hopes for—including an aspiration for the whole team.
“There are definitely two things on my bucket list to get done before I use up the rest of my eligibility. The first is to win a Big Ten title, and then secondly, I want to win an NCAA Championship,” she says, adding that she hopes to inspire the team as much as possible.
“A lot of people assume swimming is such an individual sport, and I thought that too until I got to college, so college really opened my eyes up to the team aspect.”
MacNeil always thought she would go to college in Canada, but when her swimming career began to take off she started to explore schools in the US. She explains what led her to ultimately choose Michigan for her academic and athletic journey.
“Michigan just stood out to me on so many levels. The first reason was that it’s really close to home, so I can go home frequently and see my family and friends, and I’m a huge homebody, so that was a huge draw for me. And then, secondly, just the academics and athletic combination that we have here is just unparalleled.”
The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily eliminated the ability of many athletics programs to participate in practices and competitive events. Throughout the lockdowns and quarantines, MacNeil’s team remained connected, continually checking in and supporting one another, demonstrating the true meaning behind “The Team, The Team, The Team” and redefining one of the most important coronavirus mitigation strategies.
“Everyone is pushing this whole social distancing, and I know that’s super important, but it’s not really social distancing, it’s more physical distancing. So, I think it’s more important than ever to be socially interactive with other people, whether it’s online or just calling them.”
“That’s definitely the most important thing…make sure you’re staying connected with people because you’re all going through the same thing.”
MacNeil also reflects on what it means to be someone young athletes can look up to—which is something she never expected.
“It’s crazy to be a role model. I had my role models growing up, so I know what it was like to be the young child or young athlete looking up to these amazing athletes or people that I wanted to become. So, now that I am one of those, I use that experience to impact how I interact with those people and give my time, and hopefully inspire them like they inspired me,” she says.
MacNeil also talks about the women who have helped her get to where she is now. Since March is Women’s History Month, she gives a shout-out to a few of those women.
“Definitely my mom, she’s a frontline worker, she’s a doctor in the middle of this, so I definitely admire her, and I want to be like her when I grow up. And then, my sister: she always wants me to shout out to her, she’s definitely been keeping in touch and keeping my life interesting with stories about school and life, so I’ve been enjoying that too,” she says.
Her big takeaway for all young women, young athletes, and anyone looking to achieve their dreams is: “Enjoy the experience and enjoy the process. Regardless of what happens, you’ll make friends and you’ll meet people along the way who will teach you so much.”
*This podcast was recorded before the 2021 Big Ten Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships