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A Life Aquatic: Blagg, McGinnis Reflect on Careers

Their journeys were different, but the emotion in the voices of Claire McGinnis and Alicia Blagg is the same.

There’s laughter. Voice cracks. Moments of pause as they discuss their coaches, their teammates, and life as a student-athlete at The U.

“Surreal” is a word both of them use during that time of reflection.

Blagg had represented her native Great Britain on the sport’s biggest stage – the summer Olympics –twice before ever starting classes as a collegiate student-athlete in fall 2016.

McGinnis arrived in Coral Gables as an accomplished distance swimmer from her hometown of Oakland Township, Mich. – not knowing her younger sister, Grace, would soon join her in orange & green.

Both were honored with the ‘Bill Diaz Award’ – recognizing integrity, loyalty, dedication and toughness – at the program’s end-of-season banquet.

McGinnis and Blagg credit their coaches – swimming coach Andy Kershaw and diving coach Randy Ableman, respectively – as “father-like” figures who helped them get through the emotional burdens of their athletic careers.

For McGinnis, it was academics – but not in the typical sense. McGinnis, after all, was honored Thursday in a celebration of excellence for students in the business school, where she majored in both accounting and finance.

“My freshman year, I was a little bit overwhelmed at the demands of being an athlete at UM. Swimming and the business school is a lot to manage, and I felt like I was being pulled in two different directions, with my professional interests and my athletic interests,” McGinnis said. “I would say maybe my sophomore year, I didn’t know if I was going to make it, because I was so conflicted in that regard.”

McGinnis said Kershaw played a pivotal role in helping her battle through those struggles.

“Andy really worked hard to help me be able to pursue both of those interests during my four years,” she said. “I feel like without his support, I wouldn’t have made it all four years as an athlete and I wouldn’t be as confident as I’m going professionally. I tear up even talking about it.”

For Blagg, a series of significant injuries that required multiple surgeries forced her to prematurely end her diving career after this year’s ACC Championships. Thousands of miles away from her home, as she had on several occasions during her career, she turned to Ableman for advice.

Blagg fights back tears talking about the impact Ableman has had in her life.

“He is literally my rock. He has been there through every surgery, every time I came crying. During my career at Miami, my dad was diagnosed with cancer and he was there for me at every time of day. He’s everything I could ever ask for,” Blagg said. “I wish I could take him to England with me. He’s like no other coach I’ve ever met.”

McGinnis agrees with Blagg’s assessment of the unique bond student-athletes at Miami share with their coaches.

“In high school, you have coaches but the relationship is a lot different,” McGinnis said. “I still love them and look up to them in so many ways, but coming to UM with Andy, it was such a different type of leadership. I never had a coach that was so interested in the academic side of it, different aspects of my life…it made me think, ‘wow, he really cares.'”

Blagg never had a doubt that she would be attending school in the United States after first traveling stateside with Great Britain’s junior national team during her youth diving career.

“It’s really strange to think how fast time has gone,” she said. “It feels like yesterday I remember getting here and trying to figure my way around and how campus worked and how everything else worked. Randy and the team got me settled in and, ever since then, I’ve felt like part of the family.”

Even a photo posted Thursday on the University of Miami’s official Instagram account, of the Class of 2020 joined together on the intramural fields from freshman orientation, triggered a flush of emotions for McGinnis.

“I remember, thinking back on that day, that that was a really cool moment, and when I realized, ‘wow, I’m a part of this,'” she said.

Both are excited to begin master’s programs for the fall; McGinnis will continue at Miami for her master’s in accounting, while Blagg will study forensic psychology and criminology at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland.

The ceremonies may have been postponed until this fall, but Blagg and McGinnis, along with fellow swimming & diving student-athletes Sydney Knapp and Manon Viguier, will graduate with their ‘head held high,’ Blagg said.

“As crazy as it may sound, I wish I could rewind time and do it all again,” she said. “Even the ups and the downs of these four years – they will stay with me forever. Leaving wasn’t easy, but the master’s program I’m going to be starting is going to open so many doors, because it’s so unique.

“I am really excited about that. But it’s time to leave. It’s to let the next young ones come in, take your place and keep doing Miami proud.”