Passages: Sonia O’Neal, Barbados Swimming Executive, Age 72

Sonia O'Neal, right; Photo Courtesy: World Aquatics

Passages: Sonia O’Neal, Barbados Swimming Executive, Age 72

Sonia O’Neal, the former president of the Barbados Amateur Swimming Association, died on Feb. 16. She was 72 years old.

O’Neal was a significant figure in Caribbean swimming, affectionately known by many as “Aunty Sonia” for the warmth with which she fostered the sport.

She was involved first as a swim parent, to sons Christopher O’Neal and Philip O’Neal, at the Alpha Sharks Swim Club. She rose to become the club’s president and joined the BASA board in 1996. She became BASA’s Second Vice President in 1998 and served as its president from 2000-12, representing BASA at the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome.

O’Neal was on deck at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 as a FINA Technical Official and as a World Cup Video Review Referee in Abu Dhabi that same year.

O’Neal served two terms as the treasurer of the Central American and Caribbean Swimming Federation (CCCAN). She sat on World Aquatics’ swimming technical committee from 2018-22 and was the vice chair of the PanAm Aquatics Technical Swimming Committee from 2020-23. She was on deck as an official as recently as last fall’s Pan Am Games in Chile.

Her work was recognized in 2022 with the Esther Maynard Icon Award, giving by the Barbados Olympic Association’s Women in Sport Commission. Just the second recipient of the award, it recognizes, “outstanding, dedicated women pioneers who are working towards advancing gender equality in sport across the cross-cutting areas of participation, safe sport, portrayal, resource allocation and leadership.” O’Neal stood out for her, “conscientious and sustained dedication to the aquatic sports and the advancement of its development in Barbados and indeed the wider Caribbean.”

From the Barbados Olympic Association’s tribute:

“The Board of the BOA pays tribute to Sonia O’Neal for her exceptional contributions to aquatics at the local, regional, and international levels. We extend our deepest condolences to her sons Christopher and Phillip, as well as to the members of the BASA.”

From BASA’s remembrance:

“With over three decades involvement in aquatic sports, O’Neal has supported and mentored some of Barbados’ top swimmers and personally trained swimming officials. She faithfully organized local, regional and international events that have placed Barbados among the elite swimming nations in the Americas.

Her friends on the pool deck warmly referred to her as ‘Aunty Sonia.’ She will be remembered for her loving personality, her availability to offer positive and progressive words to coaches, swimmers and administrators. O’Neal was an ever-present figure at the Aquatic Center where she made everyone feel welcome.

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Yasmin Tyson
Yasmin Tyson
1 month ago

An amazing woman, who epitomized fairness and impartiality when officiating. She raised the standard of officiating in Saint Lucia. My Aquatics mentor. Rest in peace Sonia O’Neal. Condolences to her family and the Barbados Aquatics family.

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