Local took up synchronized swimming 13 years ago, has won 15 gold medals in her career

Published in the November 8 – 21, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Duet partner Robin Kramer and Soya-Kelly.
Photo courtesy Mika Soya-Kelly

When someone turns 50 years old, the event calls for celebration. For Gilroy resident Mika Soya-Kelly, it brought upon a resolution.

Soya-Kelly became curious about synchronized swimming 13 years ago when she watched her friend’s children perform.

“I thought to myself, ‘I want to learn how to swim upside down in the water like that,’” Soya-Kelly said.

What started as an experiment turned into a huge success for Soya-Kelly. Every Saturday for the past six years she has trained for three hours at the Morgan Hill Aquatics Center. She also trains two other days a week in Monterey and San Jose, respectively. It seems to work, as she has won 15 gold medals during the past decade.

What’s more impressive is that Soya-Kelly is a flight attendant for United Airlines who is often not in town. This means that when her normal training schedule is interrupted, she must find a way around it.

“I practice in hotel pools during flight layovers,” she said.

Soya-Kelly balances flying and swimming to compete in her main events, the USA National Championships, the USA Masters Games, the Pan American Games and The Riverside Open. She has competed and placed in the FINA World Masters twice, in 2014 and 2017, and hopes to be in South Korea for the event in 2019.

Mika Soya-Kelly

She swims solo, duet and team but loves solo the most. Her track record proves that talent dictates this preference as she has won seven gold medals, five silver medals and one bronze medal in solo performances, making it her best event.

“It is amazing what you can do with your body in the water,” Soya-Kelly said.

At 63, she has accomplished more than she could have expected, but she continues to keep pushing herself in the pool for more victories in the coming years. Putting in the hard work and excelling in her age group helps the woman to stay slim and healthy, an added benefit.

Synchronized swimming has given Soya-Kelly more than a trophy case worth of hardware and a fit body. Friendships like that of Pam Edwards and Tim Thornton have made Soya-Kelly appreciative of her journey in the sport.

Edwards, a previous coach of the Santa Clara Mermaids, has been a guide for Soya-Kelly. She tells her that she is “very trainable but needs to relax.”

Thornton, a coach at the Morgan Hill Aquatics Center, took Soya-Kelly’s skills and helped her to hone in on them so that she would not fall very far behind the others in cadence.

“I was not a good swimmer around 2010,” Soya-Kelly said. “Tim helped me so much … (I was stronger in) breathing power and duration. He also coached me to develop excellent technique.”

One of the most common misconceptions about synchronized swimming is that it is sufficient just to provide the physical talent. Soya-Kelly said that you must also learn how to appeal to the judges and demonstrate  the artistic expression of the sport.


She  gives endless praise to her husband, Kevin, who cooks for them and fortifies her hectic schedule. “He supports synchro in every way,” she said with a laugh.

Soya-Kelly is a living, breathing example that it is never too late to take up a new sport or hobby.

On her mindset of always improving herself, she admits, “I believe that I can still be faster, stronger and leap higher.”