Maggie Mac Neil is having an undefeated season.
The swimmer from London, Ont., who won a medal of each colour at the Tokyo Olympics, is making a splash in her final collegiate season. Approaching next month’s NCAA championships, she has won every individual event she’s raced for Louisiana State University (LSU), including three solo gold medals at the recent Southeastern Conference championships, where she also helped LSU win a couple of relay titles.
The 22-year-old is relishing her one season at LSU after transferring from the University of Michigan, where she won two national titles. In Baton Rouge, she has reunited with Rick Bishop, who also coached her at Michigan for three seasons.
The world champion is plotting her way to the 2024 Paris Olympics, doing a masters in sports management at LSU, planning for law school and a career in sports law. On a quiet day in her training schedule, Mac Neil made time for a conversation with The Globe and Mail.
What do you appreciate most in your friends?
I have this close group of six of us from high school and we’ve stayed in touch and have cottage weekends in the summer and a party at Christmas time when we all come home. We haven’t seen each other in person as much as we would like, especially during COVID. We did homemade drive-ins and virtual birthday zoom calls. Our friendship started in Grade 10, which is before I rose onto the scene, so I’m not a swimmer to them, I’m just Maggie the person. We don’t really talk about swimming. They understand a different part of me.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I took a philosophy of happiness class once. I think it’s this year, coming to LSU and getting back into what I know I need to be doing. I’ve been happier with my training and life in school than I have been in a long time. I’m farther from home, so I don’t get home as often as I’d like, but seeing everything aligned the way I want is great.
When and where were you happiest?
At the cottage in the summer with my friends and family. Just because it’s low pressure and I don’t get very much time to go there.
What is a personality trait you wish you possessed?
Patience. My teacher was like, “I’m going to teach you patience by the time you leave Grade 8.” Still haven’t learned it.
If not yourself, who would you like to be?
My mom. [Dr. Susan McNair is a family physician, and the medical director of a sexual-assault and domestic-violence treatment centre in London]. She has such an interesting job. I couldn’t fall asleep last night, so I called her late and she was editing a sexual-assault presentation. She talks to herself when she works. I think it’d be interesting to see what she does for the day because she’s always busy.
What is your greatest fear?
I don’t have phobias or anything like that, but failure is the first thing that comes to my mind.
Any favourite writers?
My favourite book is Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. It was interesting to see someone’s perspective on elite athletes or elite anything, and what it takes to succeed. I had heard so much about the 10,000-hour rule, and back when I read it in 2019, I think it was right around that mark.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I have become a travel addict. I booked a long weekend trip to go see my friend in England. I just love experiencing new cultures. I like to satisfy that itch a little bit.
Which words do you overuse?
Since I’ve come to the [United] States I’ve learned I say ‘eh’ a lot. I say ‘like’ a lot, too. I think being in Michigan I was surrounded by people that made fun of my accent. The Michigan ‘a’ is something I picked up, and when I came home my parents could hear it.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish that I could draw. I’ve played music my whole life, but I’ve never been able to sit down with a sketch pad and draw.
What’s a sports skill you wish you had?
I wish I could play basketball.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Winning at the Olympics.
Who are three non-swimmers with whom you would like to swim a relay?
Okay, the first one is this hilarious guy I met in Chile, [Venezuelan] Daniel Dhers, who is a BMX freestyle biker. One of the funniest guys I’ve ever met in my life. I think trying to swim with [Canadian decathlete] Damian Warner would be cool. The last one, [Canadian speed skater] Christine Nesbitt, who went to Banting [Secondary School, in London] too, and she has been super supportive of my career.
What is your most treasured possession?
We have a bunch of scrapbooks in my house from when my sister and I were little that my mom made.
If you could come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
I have always wanted to fly. But birds scare me, so I don’t know. Something else that can fly?
What is your favourite occupation?
I want to be a lawyer when I grow up. I feel like a student athlete is an occupation, too. I think it takes an unusual set of skills to be able to succeed in both areas at the same time.
What is it that you most dislike?
When I was younger my parents would come to my room and I’d ask them to close the door but they would leave it a crack open. Also, slow walkers. Like I’m late for class, and they’re walking four side-by-side in the hallway, so slowly. I’m like, “come on!”
What is something in which you have impeccable taste?
Well, my sister says I have no sense of fashion so that’s not it. I’d say food and people. I like a lot of different food but I’m also very picky at the same time. And with people, I like to form my own opinions. Even if I hear something about someone, I want to get to know them without any preconceived notions.
What soothes you on a difficult day?
What frustrates you?
When something doesn’t go the way that I’m expecting it to, because I like to plan my life in advance, like “this is what I’m doing now, this is when I’m retiring, this is when I’m going to school.” It frustrates me less now than before COVID. I’ve learned to live more in the moment.
What is your greatest regret?
I don’t have any.