Each Friday, GoBonnies.com will have a new feature story about a current student-athlete, coach or member of the Bonnies alumni family. This week's feature focuses on St. Bonaventure women's swimming senior Maggie Woods' story of continuing her success in the pool with the Bonnies in the face of personal tragedy.
By Scott Eddy, Assistant Sports Information Director
The Atlantic 10 Swimming and Diving Championships set for Feb. 15-18 serve as the culmination of a year of work for all student-athletes who will hit the pool at Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio. For the seniors competing, the week also marks the finish line of four years' worth of dedication.
As if the conference meet wasn't already important enough, St. Bonaventure senior Maggie Woods will be competing for an extra special reason – in memory of her mother, Mary Jane, who passed away in December following a long battle with cancer.
Woods, a native of Livermore, Calif., committed to St. Bonaventure during November of her senior year of high school. That March, her mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. With Maggie set to move across the country just months later, her mother made sure that her illness would not stop her daughter from following her dream.
"She made it very clear to my sister (Katie, a freshman swimmer at TCU) and I that she didn't want us to alter our plans around her," Woods recalls. "She wanted us to get our full experience in the way we were supposed to and not change anything because she was sick."
And so Maggie made the trip to Western New York, a spot where she felt at home from her first visit despite only having limited experience on the East Coast with family in the Baltimore area.
"I loved it," she said of her on-campus visit in the Enchanted Mountains. "I knew this was where I wanted to be."
St. Bonaventure was her first college visit, and though she made others after that, including in her native California, SBU continued to stand out.
A freestyle swimmer, she earned three personal bests while swimming in individual events at the 2016 Atlantic 10 Championship last year. She posted a 24.76 in the 50-free, 53.73 in the 100-free and 1:53.43 in the 200-free in last year's conference meet.
Like many of the Bonnies, Woods feels renewed hope heading into conference championships this year as the team has shown continued improvement under first-year head coach Brian Thomas.
"Brian is really detailed and very passionate about swimming. Every single practice, every drill we do, there's reasoning behind it," she says. "We're more prepared than we've ever been. We've set ourselves up to be successful at A-10s."
Woods, who got into swimming as a youngster at summer camps with the support of her mother, an accomplished high school swimmer herself, and father, Joe, traveled back home to California before the holidays to be with family as her mother waged her final days of her battle with cancer. After returning to college in January, Woods was back in the pool – and as a winner. In her first competition after losing her mother, Woods took the victory in the 200-free at Binghamton on Jan. 14 with a time of 1:59.11.
"I'm in total awe of Maggie's strength and I think we've all learned a great deal from her about how best to handle adversity," Thomas said. "When Maggie's mom passed, I think we all felt the sting and wanted to make sure she felt the love that we have for her. This team is as close as any I've been around and Maggie is a big reason for that; she represents the best of the Bonaventure way."
Continuing to press on in the pool has been a no-brainer for Woods, who is a sports studies major.
"I just know that I have to keep plugging ahead. You can't stop your life; you have to keep plugging forward," she says. "I know that's what she would have wanted."
"My teammates have been so great. I have the distractions of my friends and swimming and school here to distract me from the sad things at home," she said. "Their support has meant everything to me and I don't think I would've been able to get through it without them. Being on this team, I've made some of my greatest friends here that I know I will have with me forever. That's what I'm most thankful for."
As Woods prepares for her final competition as a collegiate athlete, advice from her mother serves as a perfect description for how she has lived her life during the past four years.
"She would always tell me mind over matter. It means to me that you're stronger than any challenges that come to you," she says. "Whatever challenges you might face, you can overcome them."
If an ability to rise above challenging times is any indication of how she will finish her Bonaventure career, Maggie Woods will certainly be remembered as a winner.
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