By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Christine Magnuson won two silver medals in Beijing, and followed it up with gold at Worlds in 2011. She barely missed the 2012 Olympic team, but came back to win the 50 fly and make the 2013 World Championship team. After earning a Master of Public Administration degree from Arizona to go with her bachelor’s from Tennessee, Magnuson has retired from the sport – but has not slowed down one bit, as she explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Obvious question – why retire now?
Christine: It just felt like the natural time for it. While yes, it is hard to leave that world that you know and love, it felt like the right time for me. That was comforting.
2. So you headed out from Arizona?
Christine: Yes, back to Chicago. It’s snowing here today! So that’s different.
3. Though you went to Tennessee for college, you actually are from the Chicago area, correct?
Christine: I grew up in the south suburbs and my parents are still here. When I went away to college, I always planned to come back to Chicago to start my career, whatever that may be. I always intended to come back to the Midwest. It seemed like a good place to network and to be for career number two.
4. So you have some good job leads?
Christine: Yes, I am networking for something in sports management or sports marketing. That is the industry I am focused on right now. It’s been really good meeting people. It’s a hard industry to crack into, but I have met a lot of people the past month, and even more people earlier than that, so we’ll see what happens.
5. Is it really different living in the city than the suburbs?
Christine: Oh absolutely, I grew up in the south suburbs where it was just, you know, next to a big city but had a suburb feel. Now I am actually living in the city so it’s a new area to me – I moved into the city.
6. You worked so hard on your education when you went to train as a post-grad at Arizona – how smart of a decision was it looking back now?
Christine: I am really thankful that I did as much as I did. In my interviews, I don’t just talk about how swimming applies to the workforce, but what my master’s was in, and how the internship I had really helped.
7. What was the internship?
Christine: Through my MPA program, I went to work for Ford Aquatics – just the team, where Ford is a local sponsor for the program.
8. How much did the MPA skills help?
Christine: Oh, I had a lot of things come in handy. (Arizona coach) Eric (Hansen) had only been there for about a year. A lot of people had left, so there had been a pretty major exodus. Frank (Busch) had been president and they had someone who was running it for a long time. So it was a tough transition year when I got in there. A lot of the administrative work hadn’t been written down. So it was a bit of a challenge. Frank had known everyone in the community, versus Eric, who was new. So we had to rebuild the relationship with the donors and community.
9. All of those accounting, finance and management classes you took – did you apply those?
Christine: I really did. I rewrote the accounting and finance, policies, registration, and walked the board through strategic planning, and helped them see what as a board they needed to be looking at. We got them stable for the long term – we did a four-year plan for this Olympic cycle, and what we could do to capitalize on the incredible post-grads we had.
10. I know it was a challenge and probably stressful, but what a huge step professionally for you to be able to do that, right?
Christine: Yes, but a lot of it was from all of those courses I took. I did have some help with the financial stuff because one of the board members owned a bank and there was a point where I was like, “What is this part?” and I had help with that. This was a great experience as far as budgeting - I built a budget from scratch basically, so it was great to have that on my resume and be able to talk about it during my interviews.
11. What a schedule you had during your final stretch in Tucson, can you believe how much you did?
Christine: Swimming, doing an internship and going to classes full time. It was a pretty intense year! I felt like I had earned the week in Barcelona (at 2013 World Championships) after the meet.
12. Except for London, you were still on every National Team trip – not an easy feat, is it?
Christine: That’s the thing with swimming; it’s year to year and you have to earn your spot every year. In the past five years London was the only major team I missed and I missed it by 5-hundredths of a second (in the 50 free, and was sixth in the 100 fly).
13. How hard was it when Trials ended?
Christine: It is about the journey for me, but certainly my goal was to make that team. While I missed that team I didn’t feel like I was out of my league or anything, I just barely missed it, and that happens, certainly to a lot of people.
14. But to come back and make it again in 2013 was still extra sweet, wasn’t it?
Christine: Barcelona was such a great team. People from the outside don’t know it but everyone was so happy to be there and excited about it. I was so proud to be a part of it. We were all on the same page and it was a great page to be on. It was a really cool mix of new people and veterans – that’s a pretty normal mix for a post Olympic year. Everyone was on the same page and that led to a really fun meet and really successful meet for Team USA.
15. How about that women’s team and the young talent?
Christine: Oh absolutely! That group of girls is dynamite. They will do great things for many, many years to come. We are definitely leaving the women’s side in good hands. I was thankful to get to be on the team with that group of women.
16. What a run for USA Swimming, isn’t it?
Christine: I think it started with what Michael did in 2008 and then with Missy Franklin 2012 – and with Katie Ledecky and others, there are a lot more to go along with Missy. It was a cool end to my career being on the team with them.
17. Once again you bring it back to the people who made it special, don’t you?
Christine: I really do. That’s why I love the sport of swimming and stayed with it for so long. People ask, “Why did you swim? Medals? Because you are good at it?” They want to hear an answer about competition from me. But to be honest, it was about going to practice every day to see my friends. My teammates were awesome. Where else would I get a chance to meet these amazing people and hang out with them? We worked hard together, but without those coaches and teammates, there is no way I would have stayed in the sport.
18. You really became quite a clinician, that’s something you are still doing – you like it that much?
Christine: At all clinics, I see the pressure that these kids have on themselves, or a parent will ask me how I get them to love the sport. And it comes back to what we just talked about – the people you are with. I swam from age 6 to age 28 because I liked the people at practice. That’s what drove me every day. The desire to get better drove me from a competitive sense, but it was about the teammates at every stop, from high school and then college at Tennessee and then at the Arizona post-grad program, and of course on the National Team when we would all get together. The National Team is such a wonderful experience. All of the rivalries go away and we instantly have this great camaraderie. The people I met through Team USA were all just so incredible.
19. As far as what being a clinician has done for you, the income, sharing your love and knowledge of the sport – what has that done for you?
Christine: I don’t mind talking in front of people, and that kind of honed the skill of speaking in front of crowds, which is great for job interviews. I was also really trained by great clinicians. Josh Davis and Mutual of Omaha have done so much for the sport of swimming, and I don’t think people realize that. Giving that sponsorship to 15 or 16 clinicians a year, not just supporting us financially, but also training us – Josh was great training me. The first two years I was with some senior people, and I was able to watch and see how they do it. And now, working with David Arluck and Fitter and Faster, I am one of the more experienced in the group, so I get to mentor the new ones. This grassroots effort is so important to the people in swimming, not just for the financial support we get – which is important – but for how we develop communication and management skills we will need when we are done competing.
20. You mentioned it’s not the medals that mean the most to you, but the people – what’s a memory you will take with you from your incredible career into the rest of your life?
Christine: I’m partial to medals (laugh) I’m not going to lie! The accomplishments are something I’ll carry with me forever. You know, I am proud of what I did. But to be honest, when people ask me about my favorite memories, they are not centered around the medals. They are really cool, fun to show around, and I love to bring them to clinics and have kids’ eyes light up, “Can I touch it? Are they heavy?” That’s the coolest part, that other people can see and enjoy them. But the memories are the people who are part of it, and sometimes that is on a team, but sometimes it’s just the greatness of the swim community.
I’m going to end this with a story that you don’t have to use, but I’d like to share it with you because this is one of the many great things about swimming and the city of Chicago and the suburbs:
My parents are junior high teachers. Like a lot of people, they were not, (laughs) probably, expecting me to make the Beijing team in 2008. Right after Trials, when they got home to Tinley Park, a news crew shows up and interviews my Mom, “So, Geri are you going to Beijing to watch your daughter swim?” My Mom freezes up. She is at a bit at a loss for words, and says honestly, “I have no idea; it’s very expensive to go to China, we weren’t planning for this.” We thought maybe we could afford one parent to go, but I did not want to pick which one. Anyway, after the TV interview, the following week, these checks start pouring in from people all over Chicago, some with $10 and a note, “Saw you on the news, here’s what I can give, go!” And some were from businesses, “We loved seeing Christine make the team, go see her swim!” So many people did this out of generosity from their heart. So they set up a fund, and wrote thank you notes to every single person. That made it possible for my parents and my sister to go to Beijing. So to answer your question, my favorite memory from Beijing is AFTER I won my medal, and looking up and seeing my parents and my sister there. (Pause) Knowing what got them there still gets me choked up to this day. The generosity of the swim community and the people of Chicago. I feel so indebted because of that. So I leave with a lot of feelings, but none more than being very, very thankful and humble for that kindness.