Holly Kyle: Swimming and living gracefully

Holly Kyle, who has that almost never-found flair of being humble and self-assured at the same time, says, “I won a bunch of medals,” as if it means nothing at all, even though it’s amazing. So impressive, in fact, that she was just inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame for her stellar accomplishments as a synchronized swimmer.

Kyle took up the sport 30 years ago, looking for a tennis alternative, and has never stopped loving it. Now 73, she says she recently realized that every time she heads to the pool she’s thinking, “I get to go swimming,” and never “I have to go swimming,” and that, apparently, that attitude is what gets you the gold. Since 1983, Holly has earned 65 gold medals in U.S. Masters National Championships and 11 gold medals in FINA World Championships, competing in Germany, Italy, New Zealand and at Stanford.

She trains at Oak Park in Santa Rosa with the acclaimed coach Marion Kane Elston, and was “hooked immediately” from the day she arrived. “I love the water and I love music and it’s swimming to music,” Holly said, with a what’s-not-to-like shrug. “It’s a difficult sport. We do all this athletic stuff and then we have to look nice and smile.” Holly, a natural athlete with sparkling beauty, flashes a glistening-white-teeth grin and again – gold.

The Hall of Fame is in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Holly will have a permanent display there,

including photos, some of her medals and highlights from her career. She didn’t send them any of her bathing suits because “I like them too much,” she said.She is the first synchronized swimmer in the last six years to earn a spot in the hall of fame, where other honorees include swimming luminaries Mark Spitz and Johnny Weissmuller.

The induction ceremony was held in Anaheim, where Holly gave a charming speech that was heavy on appreciation and completely void of bravado. She told the crowd that for 30 years she’s been “giving it a whirl” and hopes to still be able to swim and compete when she is 90, like her friend and inspiration, Barbara Browne.

She thought she would be nervous at the ceremony, but was bolstered by her family, with relatives coming from several states to join her. She admits she “enjoyed all the hoopla” and it turned out to be a fun and memorable event.

Ever outdoorsy, Holly grew up in West Virginia, riding and showing horses, and got a taste of winning, her horse being a three-time grand champion. She played team sports – field hockey, basketball, lacrosse – at her prep school in Connecticut, “Because that’s what you did in high school.”

While earning a French degree at the University of Arizona, where she was president of her sorority, Kyle took every swim class offered and joined the Mermaids, a water ballet club. In later years it was tennis, tennis and more tennis, until her shoulder started to protest. Hello synchronized swimming.

Holly and her husband Steve have lived in Sonoma since 1978, and raised their children, Corbett and Sallie, here. Sallie Moore and her three daughters still live in town, while Corbett and his wife and two daughters now live in Pacifica. The Kyles owned and operated the Harvest Festival, an arts and crafts show that they started in San Francisco, expanded to 15 Western cities over 20 years and eventually sold.

Holly’s time is now devoted to Steve, whom she refers to as “the light of her life” and “a dream come true” after almost 50 years of marriage, her athletic activities and volunteering.

Depending on the season, she practices her synchro two or three days a week, golfs two or three times a week and also does Pilates and weight training to keep her strong for her other sports. She and Steve are also avid skiers and scuba divers and have even jumped out of airplanes – twice. Steve is a fishing fanatic, which keeps him occupied when Holly is in serious training before fall competition season.

Holly’s been heavily involved with the Vintage Festival and the Boys & Girls Club over the years and was a hospice volunteer. A founding member of the Teacher Support Network, she currently organizes the judges for the Sonoma High School’s senior project program.

But swimming is in her soul. “I am still learning new things, which is thrilling at my age. To get into your middle and later years and have a sport you are able to do and, because you are age averaged, you’re always competitive, it’s such a great thing.”

Holly says she will be swimming, “as long as I can.” Her coach is always encouraging her “to do more and do it more gracefully.” Which is pretty much Holly Kyle’s approach to life in general.