By Nicole Loscavio, Cal Athletic Communications
“I love life, life is great.”
That message was the last thing Maggie Simpson said as she walked away from an interview, smiling ear to ear and practically dancing down the hall in Haas Pavilion.
If any phrase could epitomize the warrior spirit of the Oscar Geballe Postgraduate Scholarship winner, Simpson expressed it perfectly.
Simpson is a distinguished student-athlete, a national champion with women’s crew, a standout thrower on the track & field team, a member of Cal’s Symphony Orchestra, a peer advisor, a tutor, a published poet, and the Executive Director of her own startup company, Sisters Network.
All that Simpson has been able to accomplish in her five years as a student-athlete at Cal is astonishing to most, but in her mind, it’s been a very straightforward journey.
“I’ve always thought that there is a linear algorithm for success in life,” Simpson said. “If you put in the hours and the hard work, if you attack life without fear and you accept failure as a step along the way, then you can get ahead and excel.
“I think Cal has opened many doors for me so that I could explore all of the passions I have,” she added.
Simpson shared that those open doors have given her access to different parts of her life that she didn’t even know could be there. Take rowing, for example.
Simpson was a walk-on as a freshman and ended up accomplishing her ultimate goal in the sport as a senior – claiming the NCAA title as a member of the varsity eight boat.
“In that moment, it was completely a transcendent experience and it was almost painless,” Simpson recalled. “I remember crossing the finish line and we heard the buzzer go off, but we couldn’t believe we had won, so we kept rowing. In winning the national championship, for one moment, you were a goddess, and you’ve transcended mortal beings. You’ve earned what you knew you could earn.”
Simpson was able to push through the pain in that race because of love.
“When I looked up, I saw people I loved and people I would never quit for,” she said. “That’s the transformative experience I’ve had at Cal. It taught me the power of love and the real life consequences of results, of giving everything you have to what and to whom you love.”
The word love seems to come up over and over throughout any conversation with Simpson. In all that she has done here at Cal, she has always found a way to give and receive love.
As a peer advisor, she interacted with her fellow student-athletes on a daily basis, helping to give them love and support. During her first year in that role, she tried to do little things to show she cared – which often meant cooking and baking for them as a friend and fellow student-athlete, in addition to helping them stay on track academically.
“Peer advising taught me love is always a good thing,” Simpson said. “Whatever you’re doing for someone, if you’re doing it with good intentions, and it’s truly for them and not for you, you’ll always create goodness in the world.”
Perhaps it was the way she was brought up that created the desire to generate goodness and spread love. As one of the seven Simpson children, Maggie learned the importance of giving back at a very early age.
“I was brought up to give back to people,” she said. “I’ve always had this idea that there’s a balance in the universe, and the world is imbalanced unless you give back all the gifts you were given. Cal has allowed me to not only make all the gifts I’ve had latent in my soul great and ready, but it has also given me an outlet to give back to others.”
Simpson feels like she’s been able to have success as a peer advisor and a tutor because of her upbringing. As a child, her father taught her that she couldn’t master a topic until she could teach it to someone else.
“Whatever he would teach me growing up, whether it was about Plato, or Aristotle, or finance -- I had a very interesting childhood -- he would always say, ‘okay now say it back to me,’” Simpson recalled.
As one of six daughters in the family, the idea for the company Sisters Network came almost intuitively to Maggie.
“All six of us are a very similar strain of woman,” Simpson said. “We’re the type of women who own our space and aren’t afraid to fight for what we believe in. We have an expectation that whatever we end up doing, it’s going to be completely us.”
In looking around and realizing that there wasn’t an obvious avenue for women to find jobs that could best exemplify their “warrior spirit,” Simpson saw the opportunity to create something to help women coming out of college follow their true passions.
“Every step of your life should be about what you want to do, because this is your one opportunity,” Simpson said. “Sisters is about wanting to become a warrior within yourself and at a young age with very little to lose, taking the risk to fling your soul into your passion right away.”
This summer, Simpson will step up from executive director of Sisters to president. She plans to take a year to focus on improving and growing her company, while figuring out what she still needs to learn.
Simpson intends to continue her education in graduate school beginning in 2016, with Haas, Harvard and Wharton’s MBA programs at the top of her list.
“The dream for Sisters in the next five years is to expand through the schools in the Bay Area,” Simpson explained. “We want to be able to hear the journey stories of all these women, for them to connect with one another, and to build varying projects together so that there are hundreds of projects run by women out in the world.”
With all that she’s accomplished so far and all that she looks forward to in the future, Simpson admitted that it can sometimes be stressful balancing everything that she has going on. But she emphasized the fact that she loves being busy and all that she is able to do.
“A lot of the things I find fun and relaxing are built into what I’m doing to achieve great things,” Simpson said. “I often reflect on that. I’ve thought, ‘Wow, how was I brought up so that everything I love doing actually is beneficial to me?’”
It’s almost hard to believe Simpson has the same number of hours in her day as everybody else. She shared an excerpt from her journal, which she keeps on hand at all times – it was a to-do list for the rest of her day, which entailed: run two miles, lift, check emails for Sisters, study, make goodies for the throwers, yoga, weigh myself, abs, graduation presents for Emi (Lawson) and Derek (White), log my hours of tutoring, become the Batman.
On the last bullet of her to-do list, Simpson simply laughed and mentioned “Oh, that’s my new goal”.
While it could come off as a light-hearted jest, that goal doesn’t seem so lofty for someone like Simpson. The Cal community can rest easy knowing graduates such Maggie Simpson are motivated to make the world a better place.