By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Time marches on, and the University of Virginia track & field record book requires regular revision.

On the women’s side, program records in 10 outdoor events have been established in the 2020s alone, including the 200 meters, 800, 1,500, 5,000, shot put, discus throw and heptathlon.

Some outdoor marks, though, have stood unchanged for decades at UVA. Ann Bair high-jumped 6 feet, 2 inches in 1983. Patty Matava ran the 10,000 meters in 32 minutes and 58.64 seconds in 1987, and Sonja Kinney covered 400 meters in 51.93 seconds that same year.

Before marrying Earl Kinney in 1993, she was Sonja Fridy (pronounced Fry-dee), and she stamped herself as one of the nation’s top track & field performers during her four years at UVA.

Not so long ago, Kinney held two other longstanding school records in outdoor track. But Halle Hazzard ran the 100 in 11.20 seconds in 2019, and Jada Seaman ran the 200 in 23.06 in 2022, and so Kinney now ranks No. 2 in those events at UVA.

When they met a couple years ago, Seaman let Kinney know she was after one of the two marks Kinney still held. “She was like, ‘I’m really trying to break this 200 record. But I can tell you one thing: Your 400 is safe. I don’t want any part of the 400,’ ’’ Kinney recalled, laughing.

Indoors, Kinney holds program records in two non-NCAA events: the 55 and the 500.

Kinney grew up in Hanover County, near Richmond, and starred at Patrick Henry High School in Ashland. Among the universities that recruited her was Tennessee, and she liked the school and its track & field program. But she had concerns about the 430 miles that separate Knoxville and Ashland.

At that time, “Southside Richmond seemed far away to me,” Kinney said. And so when UVA began recruiting her, “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s perfect. It’s an hour away. I can come home, I can be with all my friends, and it’s UVA,’ ” said the 5-foot-2 Kinney, who recalls meeting 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson during her recruiting visit.

In Charlottesville, Kinney joined a powerful program led by head coach Dennis Craddock. The Cavalier women won four ACC outdoor titles and one ACC indoor championship during her college career. (The ACC held its first indoor meet for women in 1987.)

In 2010, Kinney was among the Cavaliers named to the ACC’s 50th anniversary team for women’s track & field and cross country. She was a five-time All-American who won 10 ACC titles: one indoors (60-meter dash) and nine outdoors (100 and 200 in 1984; long jump in 1985; long jump, 100 and 200 in 1986; and long jump, 100 and 200 in 1987).

As a senior in 1987, she placed third in the long jump and fourth in the 400 at the NCAA outdoor championships.

“I didn’t really start running the 400 until my junior year,” Kinney said. “Coach Craddock never really looked at me as a 400 runner when he recruited me, even though I finished third in the state in the 400 my senior year [at Patrick Henry].”

She was probably better known as a sprinter, but Kinney ranks No. 4 all-time at UVA in the long jump (6.42m). “When I tell people how long I jumped, they’re like, ‘I thought you had to be tall to long jump,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I guess not.’ ”

Sonja Fridy Kinney (center) with husband Earl and their children

Kinney, who majored in rhetoric and communications at the University, received her bachelor’s degree in 1987. Other African-Americans, she knows, have found UVA to be unwelcoming, but her experience was different.

“I don’t know if it’s still like that,” she said, “but the African-American community at UVA at the time was a community within itself. So, I didn’t have a lot of interaction, other than in my classes and in athletics, with non-African-Americans. In fact, I used to work with this lady who graduated from UVA the same year as I did, and she was like, ‘I’m surprised our paths never crossed.’ And I was like, ‘There were, what, 14,000 people there at the time, number one, and I just didn’t have a whole lot of interaction outside of track and the kind of sub-African-American community.’ ”

She grew up in a part of Hanover County where all her neighbors were Black, Kinney said, but she made white friends at John M. Gandy Elementary and remained close with them at Liberty Middle and Patrick Henry High. “And so I think when I got to UVA I just never really was like, Black, white, whatever, and I never felt any [racial animosity],” she said.

She looks back fondly on her four years at UVA. “I had the best time,” Kinney said. “When my kids got ready to go to college. I was like, ‘You need to have fun in college. ’”

She laughed. “I probably had too much fun. My grades probably could have been better. But I enjoyed that time. I have lifelong friends. I was just talking to my one of my college roommates last night.

“Now, I will say the transition my first year, both athletically and academically, was challenging. Academically, I struggled my first semester. I could do the work, but I was having such a grand time. I had never been away from home, and I had always just been under the supervision of my mom or whoever. And I had a really, really fun first semester.

“Athletically, it was a total culture shock, because I was so talented in high school, and the coaches weren’t hard on me.”

When she joined the Wahoos’ track & field team, the demands placed on her grew significantly.

“First of all, I get there in August, and they’re like, ‘Track starts in September,’ ” Kinney said, “and I’m like, ‘Wait, what?’ Because I had never, ever done any preseason anything. I didn’t run indoor track in high school, because I did gymnastics. There was no preseason. You just came out and ran yourself into shape.”

The first time it snowed in Charlottesville when she was a UVA student, Kinney expected her coaches to cancel practice. “And they were like, ‘Nope, nope, we’re practicing.’ ”

That first preseason “really was a test of whether or not I was going to make it at UVA and in Division I athletics,” Kinney said. “That preseason tested my fortitude. When I came home for Thanksgiving, they gave us these workouts to do and they told us we better do them. I don’t know if I did them or not, but I can remember coming back from Thanksgiving break and just having the workout from hell. Everybody’s throwing up and [the coaches are] like, ‘Yeah, that’s why you’ve got to work out at home.’

“I think kids now have a better chance, because they do so much more with their sport [in the offseason]. But back then, that transition was killer. And then you’re also faced with the fact that everybody’s great. Yeah, you were great in the high school, but so was everybody else on the team. So you’re not the greatest any more and you have to earn your spots on relays. A lot of meets, they can only put in a certain amount of people [in each event], and you have to earn that. It’s not given. And I think that a lot of athletes get there and they’re like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ “

Her husband, also a Patrick Henry graduate, is head football coach at Mills Godwin High School in the Richmond area. The Kinneys live in Henrico County and have four children, including 17-year-old twins, Caleb and Cameron. Their daughter, Alease, starred in track & field at Roanoke College, and their oldest son, John, played football at James Madison University.

After graduating from UVA, Kinney represented the United States at the World University Games in Zagreb, Croatia, where she ran on the 4×400 relay team that won the gold medal, and at the world track & field championships in Rome.

“That was really fun,” Kinney said of her experience in Italy. “I was there as an alternate for the 4×4 [relay]. I didn’t run, but I had a great time. Jackie Joyner-Kersee was there, and all these big names.”

She no longer runs, but not because she’s lost for passion for the activity at which she excelled.

“My knees are shot,” Kinney said. “My orthopedic doctor said, ‘You’re probably going to have to have a knee replacement, but you have 10 years if you behave,’ and I can’t go out and just run slow. In my mind, I just have to go hard. And so the doctor was like, ‘Either don’t go hard or you have to stop, because otherwise you’re going to need knee replacement a lot sooner.’ ”

She found her niche professionally in sales and marketing. She’s an account executive in advertising for the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC).

“I think sales is literally the perfect profession for me,” Kinney said, “because of my competitive nature and my always just wanting to win. I loved it because of that, but I also loved it because, with sales, you decide what kind of income you’re gonna have. You don’t have to wait for somebody to give you a raise. It really is based on how hard you work. Now, obviously, in some industries, like if you sell houses and the housing industry tanks, that affects you. But I work in advertising, and for the most part it’s like I control my own income. And I love that.”

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