Jim Durham, News Bureau Director
Twenty-five swim team members from Louisville’s Sacred Heart Academy – former Olympic great Mary T. Meagher’s high school alma mater – will be in the audience for tonight’s “Conversations with Champions at Georgetown College.” Another 20-25 from Scott County High School’s swim squad along with a number of dignitaries from central Kentucky’s “swimming community” are planning to attend. Swimmers and fans of the Olympics are especially invited to come for this free event in our Hill Chapel at 7:30 p.m. Mary T’s fireside chat with GC Executive Scholar-in-Residence Billy Reed will last just over an hour.
Olympic champion swimmer Mary T. Meagher Plant believes the only way a society can survive is through collective integrity and the development of character at a young age.
“I’ve always been happier trying to live a life beyond reproach,” said Meagher, nicknamed “Madame Butterfly” after winning three gold medals in the 1984 Olympics. “I know anytime you compromise your values, you dig a hole for yourself…and it gets increasingly harder to dig yourself out.”
Meagher will be the first to give a female perspective on the “decline of character in sports” in the series of fireside chats known as “Conversations with Champions at Georgetown College” on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Hill Chapel. She is the third guest of Billy Reed, our newest Executive Scholar-in-Residence, following C.M. Newton, a former NCAA Rules Committee Chairman and University of Kentucky Athletic Director, and successful Louisville businessman and PGA board member Junior Bridgeman, a former U of L and NBA star.
Meagher, a native of Louisville, is one of the athletes Reed most admired when he was sports editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal and special correspondent for Sports Illustrated. “I was very touched when Mary T stepped onto the awards platform in Los Angeles. “She’s always carried herself with a lot of dignity and grace. Her whole life is a good example.”
Students-athletes who are constantly confronted with temptation, however, will still be able relate to Meagher. “I had such a reputation that I wasn’t tempted as a student,” she recalled. “But, did I feel left out in high school and college with the drinking scene? Absolutely. I don’t regret being sort of a goody-goody, though.” And, to this day she said, she will stop with one glass of wine because being able to work-out the next day is more important to her.
Plus, she and her husband, Mike, have two teen-agers for whom they have high expectations and set an example. Cheerleader Maddie is a freshman in high school; Drew, who’s now focusing on basketball and baseball, is a 7th-grader. “We’re raising two great kids who appreciate a dollar, do chores and respect others,” Meagher said.
A Sociology major in college, Meagher said she comes at character-development and child-rearing from more of a religious standpoint than does her husband. She’s been known to tell her children, “You’ll get there if you do what God wants you to do.” Also president of their homeowners association in Peachtree City, GA, she likes to share some of conflicts she must resolve with Maddie and Drew and pose that question, “What would Jesus do?”
Unfortunately, Mary’s husband won’t be along for her event at Georgetown College – as he could’ve given his take on how character on the collegiate level plays into professional sports these days. Mike Plant is Executive Vice President of Business Operations for major league baseball’s Atlanta Braves. A former Olympic speed skater, he met Mary when they were both their sport’s representatives on the Athletes Advisory Council to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
While competitive, Mary T. Meagher dominated her event – the butterfly – winning the three golds at the ’84 Olympics, and reigning as world champion in 1982 over 100 meters and in 1986 in the 200. She also set two world butterfly records over 100 meters, and five over 200 meters, beginning in 1979. After her prime, in the ’88 Olympics, she took bronze in the 200 meters and a silver in the medley relay.
Billy Reed calls Meagher “the best female athlete ever produced in Kentucky.” An aquatic center in her hometown’s Crescent Hill Park bears her name. Mary’s sister, Anne Meagher Northup, is a former U.S. Congresswoman.
In 1988, by then past her prime, she earned a bronze in the 200 meter butterfly and a silver on the medley relay. Meagher would likely have won both butterfly events in 1980 had the United States not boycotted the Moscow Olympics.