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2015 Woman of the Year finalist: Maggie MacPhail

The DePauw tennis player battled through a heart condition and kept her team steady

When DePauw University head tennis coach Scott Riggle describes mental toughness, he doesn’t talk about athletes who shout or pump their fists. He describes quiet perseverance. He describes Maggie MacPhail.

During her four years with the Tigers program, MacPhail was a calm and steady presence. She remained steady despite a worrisome heart condition: supraventricular tachycardia, which causes a rapid heartbeat. For MacPhail, the ailment was simply another opponent to defeat. She did not let it define her.

“Her personality is such that she’s very humble and wants to be part of something bigger than herself,” Riggle said. “Even if you’re very close to her, she doesn’t wear anything on her sleeve.”

The Indianapolis native began experiencing abnormal rhythms at age 7, causing her heart to race up to 250 beats per minute. MacPhail, who happens to be the daughter of a cardiologist, understands the condition is not life threatening, but she has lived through the challenges it can pose throughout a lengthy tennis match. The condition causes her to feel dizzy, light-headed and lethargic. Put simply, she says it makes her body feel like a puddle.

“In my mind (retiring from matches) was never really an option,” MacPhail said. “My heart condition might hold me back from reaching my full potential at times, but that is OK with me because it’s what I wanted to do and be involved in.”

Even if MacPhail takes the full 20 seconds allotted between each point to regroup before the next rally, her heart rate stays up. She fought a number of internal battles during her tennis career, but opponents and teammates alike were often unaware.

MacPhail also pulled her team together. At the start of the 2014-15 season, the team’s six seniors had high expectations for their final campaign. But they opened with a 3-4 record.

“I was perplexed because they were great kids, very coachable, and I couldn’t figure out through the first few weeks what was going on with them,” Riggle said. “Thanks to Maggie, who met with the whole team, including our coaching staff, she helped me get to the bottom of it.”

The Tigers found their rhythm thanks to the teammate whose heart can’t find its own. They went on to win a conference championship and advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.