By Ginger DeShaney
Following in the swim strokes of her dad, Stephen McKunes, Ava McKunes took to the water like a fish.
She started swimming the butterfly because that’s what her dad swam when he was a member of the South Boston Boys & Girls Club swim team. And it turns out, Ava’s pretty good at it.
Actually, she’s very good at it … she’s so good that she broke a 27-year-old South Boston Club 50 fly record set by Michelle Sloane. Ava’s time was 30.52 seconds, besting Michelle’s record of 31.44.
But Ava had to wait two years to celebrate the milestone because she broke the record, at age 14, in January 2020, right before everything shut down because of COVID-19.
It was tough waiting that long to celebrate, said Andrea, Ava’s mom, but Edgerley Family Club staff, led by Executive Director Harry Duvall, made sure to recognize Ava’s accomplishment during the first home meet of this year.
The Club reached out to Michelle, who attended the meet in early November for the changing of the record sign. “She congratulated me,” Ava said. “She was very nice. She gave me a hug.”
The record was broken during a regular Club meet. “It just happened,” Ava said. “I’m surprised; it was kind of like I didn’t believe that I actually did that.”
Andrea said it was really exciting. “We got to be in the moment with her. We are so proud; so proud!”
The butterfly is a difficult stroke, but it made Ava more determined to succeed. “It made me more focused on trying to do better with it.”
“It never seemed to be work for her,” said Andrea, who noted Ava has been swimming since the age of 4 and was always a natural.
Because the Boys & Girls Club swim team is small but mighty, the members swim a lot of events. In addition to the butterfly, Ava also swims freestyle and breaststroke. “I’m so proud of her,” said Andrea, who is the director of Child Care at Julie’s Family Learning Center. “She really puts so much into it.”
Ava, 16, is admittedly shy. But her teammates – who are very supportive and enthusiastic – have become lifelong friends. “[Swim team] has connected me to a lot of people,” Ava said.
Andrea noted that swimming has brought her out of her shell … with this group. “It’s life-changing. It’s a great group. More than anything I just love the friendships she has made from this.”
Ava, whose family now lives in Dorchester but still has ties to South Boston, is a student at Boston Latin Academy and will be swimming with the BLA team this winter. She’ll also continue swimming with the Club team because the scheduling works out. So, that’s a lot of swimming.
When she’s not in the water or doing her homework, Ava, who hopes to continue swimming in college, can be found on her phone, reading, or babysitting her little sisters.