Kapaa resident Sonya McGinnis swims at national meet after 30-year competitive absence

  • Mike McGinnis / Contributed photo

    Sonya McGinnis of Kapaa competes in the 200-yard individual medley event during the 2019 US Masters Swimming Spring National Championships in Mesa, Arizona, in late April.

  • Mike McGinnis / Contributed photo

    Sonya McGinnis of Kapaa stops for a photo during the 2019 US Masters Swimming Spring National Championships in Mesa, Arizona, in late April.

LIHUE — After a 30-year layoff from competition, Kapaa resident Sonya McGinnis jumped back into the deep end.

McGinnis, 52, competed in the 2019 US Masters Swimming Spring National Championship in Mesa, Arizona, which ran on April 25-28.

“When I told people I was going to do that, most of them were like, ‘What?’” McGinnis said. “A lot of places, they have meets for masters going throughout the year. We don’t have anything here or Oahu. I thought this was the only meet I’d be able to go to. So, getting on the blocks after 30 years, it was a little nerve-wracking.”

McGinnis, who is originally from Las Vegas, was a former swimmer for the University of Hawaii from 1984-88. Kauai has been her home for the last 16 years.

“I started when I was 14, and then I swam for UH. And, I missed Olympic trials by a fraction of a second in high school and in college. So, it kind of haunts you,” she said. “I haven’t swam in a competitive meet, really, for 30 years. The reason I did this was because my kids are now 16 and 18. When my 16-year-old started driving, as a mom, you feel like, ‘What are you doing?’ You feel like you need to re-invent yourself or do what you were doing.”

After a three-decade hiatus from competitive swimming, she took to the water again. In February, she joined a group at the YMCA of Kauai.

“I found out there’s this great masters group at the Y. They only work out two days a week,” McGinnis said. “It’s a great group of people. There’s ex-professional surfers. There’s paddlers. There’s people of all different levels, so it’s really fun. Everyone is really there to do what they can, get back in shape and have fun.”

Soon after, McGinnis got curious about how her times compared to the national level. She searched online and saw that she made one of the cuts for nationals.

Despite just getting back in the swing of things, McGinnis decided right at the deadline to enter into the national meet.

“I figured I had to work smarter, not harder,” she said. “When I used to swim, I’d swim for five to six hours a day. But this (the group at the YMCA) was just two hours a week. So I watched videos online and see what the Olympic breaststrokers were doing. I had to learn new turns. Thirty years, a lot has changed.”

Her goal initially was to place in the top-2o of the events in her age group. In the five events she swam in, she placed in the top-10 in four of them:

w 50-yard breaststroke, placed 10th

w 100-yard breaststroke, placed eighth

w 200-yard breaststroke, placed eighth

w 100-yard individual medley, placed 16th

w 200-yard individual medley, placed seventh

“I guess I wasn’t really that nervous because I just figured the stakes weren’t that high,” McGinnis said. “In college, it was always, I was trying to make Olympic cuts or NCAA cuts or something. Whereas here, I’m just going to go out and do the best I can. No real problem if I didn’t do well.”

With a new competitive fire stoked, she hopes to enter more competitions in the near future.

“There is a masters nationals long-course in Mission Viejo, California in August,” McGinnis said. “I guess I have to see what happens with work and everything. My goal, I’m still friends with some of the ex-UH swimmers that have moved all over the mainland. My goal would be to get a team together, either with some of the masters people here or some of my ex-UH swimmer people. It would be awesome.”

She added: “One of the guys that swam at UH that is now doing really well at masters. I think he placed in the top-three or something. He said he wants to try to get some meets going on Oahu, or it would be great to have some meets here. Definitely, it would be great to have something to do so you don’t have to jump in at the national level.”


Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or ncelario@thegardenisland.com.


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