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Huge swim strides pay off in UT ‘Hall’
Jenny McGrath evolves from self-doubt into champ


A few years before she became a championship swimmer, young Jenny McGrath had to dive over a few aquatic hurdles — mostly mental ones.

But in the end, things worked out pretty well. McGrath went on to capture a number of state championships at Farragut High School in the mid-to-late 1980s before winning All-American honors, three Southeastern Coference championships and several team records as a University of Tennessee Lady Vol superstar in the early 1990s.

Inducted into the Tennessee Swimming Hall of Fame in October 2001, Jenny McGrath Weaver was one of five inducted into the UT Lady Vols’ Hall of Fame during a ceremony Friday, Oct. 22, in Knoxville.

“I was most proud then, ’cause they announced that she had the most awards of any person in the Lady Vols’ Hall of Fame at that time,” said Brenda McGrath, Jenny’s mother. “I knew Jenny had accomplished a lot, but I don’t keep up with my children’s accomplishments as far as keeping them in my head. That Friday night when they had read all those accomplishments, I don’t want to say forget, but I had not remembered all that she’d done even though I knew she’d done a lot.”

A 15-time All-American, Jenny won three SEC championships (200-yard individual medley and 200-freestyle relay in 1990 and the 200-freestyle relay again in 1992) while holding four UT records: 200-IM, 200-freestyle, 800-freestyle relay and 200-freestyle relay.

As a student/athlete, Jenny was a three-time Collegiate Swimming Coaches Association Academic All-American (1989, ’90 and ’91).

“Probably one of the things I was most proud of accomplishing … was when I finished my career … my two-hundred individual medley time was listed in the top fifteen fastest women in history,” Jenny said of her winning SEC effort in 1990 in the 200 IM.

As for her latest recognition, “I was very honored, of course, and humbled to be inducted with such a great group of other women athletes,” Jenny said upon hearing the news in late September. “I was surprised and thrilled.”

Topping things off was a moment of recognition for the four surviving inductees in Neyland Stadium during a break in the action at the Alabama-UT football game Saturday, Oct. 23.

“There she was, when they had her up on the big screen, that was fantastic,” Brenda said.

“That was just phenomenal,” said Jenny, a general surgeon (laparoscopic bariatric or “weight loss surgery”) with Memphis Surgery Associates who graduated from UT with an engineering degree in 1993. “That’s an experience I’ll never forget, and I’ll never have anything like it again. To be out on the football field in front of a hundred-and-ten-thousand people (and) on the JumboTron having your name announced was really exciting.”

As for keys to her success, “I was blessed with some God-given ability and, second of all, I love the sport,” Jenny said. “I think in order to be a champion athlete at what you do you have to love the sport. And I definitely love swimming, and miss it.

“And along with every athlete, it takes hard work and dedication.”

CONFIDENCE, DAD’S GIFT

At FHS, where she graduated in 1988, Jenny was a multi-state champion in the 50-yard freestyle, 100-breaststroke and 200-individual medley during her final three years in high school.

As a young child, however, Brenda said her daughter lacked the confidence to become a championship swimmer.

“I definitely did not think I was any good, or capable,” Jenny said. “Kind of had a mental block when it came to winning races … I just didn’t think I was a very good swimmer.”

Jenny turns to one special person when pointing to a difference-making influence in her swimming career.

“When it came to winning races, I think the main person who kind of helped me get over that was my dad,” Jenny said about her late father, Steve McGrath. “I would give my dad the most credit, as far as just kind of telling me and teaching me that I was every bit as good as anybody else out there. And I would say that, of all my coaches and influences, my dad was probably the biggest one.”

COACHING ADVICE

Jenny also had one quality that one Pilot Aquatic Club coach would use to mold her into a champion.

“She has always been one who would listen to instruction, listen to what people told her of how to do something,” Brenda said. “She was very methodical.

“And once she could sort of map it out, and see how it was to be done, then she’d just go do it,” Brenda added. “Up until middle school and high school, everybody sort of has their pecking order of where they’re supposed to be. And she always thought she was supposed to be second, third or fourth on this.”

As for a particular career changing moment, some coaching advice prior to a swim as a middle school student changed everything according to Brenda.

“This one coach, his name was Mike Corash, and I’ll never forget it. It was in a southeastern championship, and of course, she thought she was supposed to be second, third or fourth there,” Brenda said. “And he told her exactly how to swim that event, and she swam it exactly like he told her and she won.

“And that was the start of her winning.”

Other youth coaching influences include Matt Vogel (her head coach at Atomic City Aquatic Club), “who was a very big influence on me as well,” Jenny said, in addition to Corash and Tom White of the Pilot Aquatic Club.

At UT, Jenny was coached by Dave Roach (head coach) and Dan Colella, then assistant coach who is currently Lady Vols head coach.

ON WITH LIFE

Jenny and her husband, Dr. Jason Weaver, are expecting their first child, a girl, in February.

As for how Jenny’s swimming career impacted her life, “it was a big help,” the former UT star said. “I was used to hard work, I was used to working through being tired, used to getting up early and putting in long hours.

“Just the dedication it takes to become a good athlete certainly, that work ethic carries over into every aspect of your life, especially your career,” Jenny added. “It has absolutely helped me become a pretty good surgeon.”

 

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