Susan Tennant McGill says that people assume she is a ‘swim’ mom (that’s what happens when you have one son, Tyler McGill, who is one of the world’s finest butterfly swimmers, as well as one son who is a head coach at a Division I university) but “I have never seen myself that way with my kids, I always felt we were a family who happened to have children who liked to swim.” Born and raised in Champaign, Susan says she is a true “townie.” McGill has been teaching at Champaign’s Bottenfield Elementary since 1996, after a 10-year stint staying at home raising her four children. She has four children and 2 daughter-in-laws; Elliott and wife Emily, Tyler and wife Julianne, Colin, and Sarah. The McGills are headed to the London Olympics in a few weeks where they will watch Tyler compete for Team USA in the 100 meter butterfly.
See why we think Susan McGill is a Chambana Mom to Know.
Q: What does it feel like to be the mom of an Olympian?
Many people have asked what does it feel like to be the mother of an Olympian and I have to say ‘I don’t know! – To me I am just Elliott, Tyler, Colin and Sarah’s mom and so I feel like all moms feel when something so amazing happens with their child! I feel the way moms feel the first time their child smiles at them, takes their first step, rides a bike, reads a book by themselves, gets their license, walks across the stage for graduation, or the day their child comes home from serving in the armed forces; their child has done something that is a milestone for them and as their parent you are so proud and over flowing with joy for your child. I think the difference is that all those things that bring moms the joy that explodes in their heart is usually privately felt or seen, but in the case of Tyler making the Olympic team it was viewed and talked about by many. So all I can say is, I feel just like you did and do at any of those wonderful moments that one has with their child.
Q: In interviews I’ve read, Tyler seems very proud to be from C-U. Why do you think that is?
Tyler and really all of my children are proud to be from Champaign-Urbana! They grew up proud to support the Illini, proud to be on baseball teams, soccer teams, Storm Aquatics and then of course on the many teams they were on while at Central High School. I think by participating in those activities as well as scouts and church youth groups helped to instill that sense of community. It is said that ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Well, Champaign and all the people that have touched my childrens’ lives is their village. So I think any sense of pride that Tyler and his three siblings have, comes from the family, friends, and community members who have enriched their lives and jointly created that pride.
Q: Do you have any superstitions or routines on race day? Any lucky charms?
I don’t think I have any superstitions, but I try to avoid anything that in my mind would put ‘the cart before the horse’. So I didn’t buy a Team USA flag that I wanted because that might ‘jinx’ the outcome in Omaha and I felt I would be getting ahead of things-the flag has been ordered and is now on its way! Tyler has had a favorite bucket hat since he was 11 that he wore all through middle school and would take to his meets. I now have it and I take it with me to his major meets, sometimes showing it to him and enjoying his smile when he sees it. I forgot it when we left for Omaha and did worry… so I guess it’s now been proven its only superstition, as the hat provided all of its luck in the drawer at my house, not in my purse with me in Omaha. I do plan on taking it with me to London! On race day for major meets whether high school state, college (Tyler went to Auburn) conference, or the Olympic Trials I like to get there early, avoid the crowd, and just sit in my seat and relax.
Q: What are you looking forward to seeing in London (besides your son competing)?
My family is so excited about going to London. We will have about three or so days to actually be away from the Olympics and be a tourist. We have never been on a trip like this all together. My son Elliott and I had the privilege of going to Rome in 2009 to watch Tyler in the World Championships. It was a trip I remember more for the wonderful time I got to spend with just Elliott than anything else. So going to London with everyone is very exciting to me. We are in the planning stages of what all we want to see. With the kids being older I imagine they will go off together and do some exploring on their own. My fiancé and I plan on doing the red bus tour with my parents and seeing some of London’s major attractions, hopefully the kids will join us!
Q: You have been an educator for many years, and it’s almost back to school time. Do you still get excited to get into the classroom?
I do still get excited about getting back into the classroom! I have taught summer school for a number of years so I have ended my regular school year and then right away have started up another classroom meeting new students. The break after summer school is over allows me to clear my head and come back to school refreshed and renewed in August. I think I get excited about the start up because of the anticipation of the new students I am going to be developing a relationship with. Every class has its own personality, so each year is new and different. I think one of the advantages of being in the teaching profession is that you get a fresh start every year. People say you do the same things each year… and to some extent I do, but I do it with 24 new students who haven’t done these activities, so to them it’s new! I usually start the year off by telling the children all the different things they will be learning and doing. Seeing their excitement and joy energizes you and allows you to see the world from their view-I love that feeling! I love the end of the year when we make a list of all we have done and seeing the students pride and joy as they sense their own growth and progress!
Q: What would your advice be to parents who have younger children in competitive sports?
My advice to parents with younger children in competitive sports is to not push and keep things realistic. Remember your child is only a child. They never go to their sporting event and say “I think I’ll see how bad I can be today.” They always go trying their best on that day. Their performance may not be as good as tw days earlier, but it’s the best they had at that moment. I think it’s important for parents to support their child for their efforts and tell them how proud they are of them. Don’t be the coach, be the parent. I have never owned a stop watch, it wasn’t my job to time my kids from the stands or to tell them how they did or what they needed to fix with their stroke. That was between their coach and them. I also would advise a parent to make sure their child has a lot of down time to play outside and be with their friends. One of the best things my children’s coaches use to encourage was for them to take breaks and participate in other school sports, not just swimming. The years go by so fast so enjoy these years with your children, make time for family.
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