GEORGETOWN — The question stumped Mary T. Meagher Plant.
How can a cheating athlete take satisfaction in victory?
"I don't know ... but that was how I was raised," said the former Olympic champion and world record-holding swimmer. "I was raised that you live your life beyond reproach. I was raised that you do the right thing."
Plant was featured Wednesday night at Georgetown College's Hill Chapel as part of a program called Conversations With Champions, hosted by Billy Reed, executive scholar in residence at the college and a former Herald-Leader sports columnist.
The program aims to, in the words of Georgetown College President William Crouch, "bring character back into athletics." Conversations hit on the importance of character, integrity and honesty.
Plant talked about efforts needed to fulfill life goals.
"I don't want this to get out of proportion," she said, "but when I hit rock bottom (1982), one of the things that came to mind was suicide. I mean, what an easy way out.
"The counselor said to me, 'You'll never be creative enough to figure out how to be happy with the circumstances in your life now if in the back of your mind you're always thinking 'there's an easy way out.'
"I use that in my marriage. If you're thinking about divorce, thinking of it as an option, you'll never be creative enough to figure out what" to do to save the marriage.
Plant is married to former Olympic speedskater Mike Plant, who now is executive vice president for business with the Atlanta Braves.
Known as "Madame Butterfly" or simply "Mary T.," Plant won Olympic gold and set world records in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly.
The 10th child and ninth girl in her family, Mary T. said that, growing up in Louisville in a strict Catholic family, her priorities began with God, family and school.
(Sacred Heart Academy canceled swim practice Wednesday so the team could hear from the alum who won 24 national titles.)
A key to Mary T.'s early success was obedience. She did what her parents asked and what teachers asked. Then, there were the coaches.
"When they told me I needed to go faster, 'OK, go faster,'" she said.
Mary T. was 14 when she set her first world record, in the 1979 Pan Am Games.
But the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, led by President Jimmy Carter, kept Mary T. from going for gold. The next year, at the U.S. Swimming nationals, she lowered her world marks to 57.93 for the 100 and 2:05.96 — records that stood for 18 and 19 years.
In 1982, the cheaters caught up with Mary T. The East Germans, later found out to have been using steroids, beat her in the World Championships. Her confidence shaken, she hit rock bottom.
In 1984, at Los Angeles, Plant got her Olympic glory.
She won three events in three days — the 100 and 200 butterfly and the butterfly leg on the medley relay.
Four years later, at the Seoul Olympics, Meagher won bronze in the 200 butterfly, placed seventh in the 100 and won silver by swimming in the relay qualifying heat.
When the last of her world records fell, in 2000 to Australia's Susan O'Neill, "there was no suspicion of drugs, so it was easy to be happy for her," Plant said.
That's how to get satisfaction out of a victory.