When senior Justine Mueller nears the end of her grueling 32 50-meter repeats at practice, she has to push to finish. Then she hears sophomore Margaret Kelly’s encouragement from the pool deck.
That voice makes all the difference.
“It can be the light at the end of the tunnel some days,” Mueller said.
After claiming conference titles and breaking records, Kelly has a lot left over – for her teammates. A quiet leader, the Ann Arbor native can almost always been seen with a smile, ready to provide positive motivation.
“Definitely a silent leader,” Mueller said. “(She) just really can bring light to anyone’s day.”
Kelly brings her upbeat attitude to the pool day every day. Even through tough workouts, she consistently finds a way to make sure her fellow swimmers are excited about swimming.
Kelly’s kind words and positive attitude radiate with her teammates. In and out of the pool, Kelly makes it a priority to support her teammates and takes concern for their well-being.
“Whenever I’m having a bad day, I’m just like, ‘Margaret, I need a hug,’ and so she’ll give you one of those ‘mom hugs,’ ” junior Emily Brunemann said. “She’s very good with those, and those really brighten up your day.”
Kelly said she gives out hugs to teammates that may benefit from one, but really just “anything to help them out.”
The athletic training major says she tries to take the team’s philosophy of turning negative energy or experiences into positive ones.
“She’s got wonderful balance in her life,” Michigan coach Jim Richardson said. “But I think to Margaret, people are more important than things or swimming.”
But Kelly’s teammates and coaches are not the only people to take notice of her optimistic spirit.
Kelly has amassed a slew of honors this season, including being named the Big Ten Championship meet’s highest scorer. She also received the Big Ten Sportsmanship award last month.
“It’s just an honor to get that award, to know that people notice maybe when you’re nicer to other teammates or just congratulate everyone,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s modesty and positive demeanor don’t sway with a tough meet or practice. She makes the best of the situation, and finds a way to use it to her advantage.
“On days when she’s fatigued, she’s just more determined,” Richardson said.
Kelly’s quiet leadership may not make a lot of noise, but her swimming definitely screams. She won three Big Ten titles at last month’s conference championships and has recorded the eighth fastest time in the nation in 200-yard individual and sixth in the 100-yard butterfly.
At the NCAA Championships March 20-22 at Ohio State’s McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion, the crowd will be one of the loudest of the season. But the Wolverines won’t need to look far to find their biggest cheerleader. She’s been there all along.