Gina Mensay, 51, passed away on June 4 in Colorado Springs. The previous day, Mensay had participated in conference calls and reported not feeling well, but no one had any reason to expect it would be the last time they would hear her relentlessly positive voice.
The loss is being felt especially keenly in the officiating world, where Mensay made a huge impression in a relatively short period of time.
“People like Gina are rare,” said Kathleen Scandary, USA Swimming National Officials Chair. “She made everyone feel as though they were worthy of her time. She made people feel like their question was important. Even if she knew the answer was readily and easily available by some other means, she’d teach – and then that person would know how to get it the next time.
“Making someone feel worthwhile is what drew people to her.”
Mensay joined USA Swimming just over seven years ago, making the transition from land-sport to water-based enthusiast with aplomb. The Mensay family, residents of Colorado Springs after having moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico, were a soccer-first family when it came to sport participation.
But it soon became clear that Gina Mensay was uniquely suited to swimming. She began in an administrative role in the Member Services group with USA Swimming, and soon transitioned into her role as a senior manager whose main role was to coordinate officials.
USA Swimming’s Chief Operating Officer, Mike Unger, recalls being in a meeting with Mensay early in her tenure and half-jokingly suggesting that she should become a deck official, never expecting a determined Mensay to take on the challenge
“Just six months later, she was,” Unger said. “And she was good – totally into it, completely geeked out on it, and people loved her for it.”
Cathy Durance, who recently ended a 37-year run with USA Swimming, had the privilege of supervising Mensay’s activities on the job – first in the administrative role in Membership Affairs, and later as the coordinator of officials. Durance says the officiating landscape took an incredibly tough hit with Gina’s passing.
“Her dedication, her love and respect for the officials – that they were volunteers and all had ‘real’ jobs, but they were taking 7 or 8 days and using fun time, vacation time, because they loved the sport – was unmatched,” Durance said. “She understood that they were there to give the kids a wonderful experience with the sport. It’s a huge loss.”
Beyond a knack for efficiently executing her responsibilities as the coordinator of a half-dozen national officiating workshops each year, Mensay went the extra mile and scheduled off-hours fun in spots to help lend some flavor to the trip.
The USA Swimming staff and officials from all over the country assembled a memorial book in Mensay’s honor – a collection of great memories from many of those workshop trips, and heartfelt thoughts that captured her contributions and presence in the workplace – mainly for the benefit of her family: husband Chris and children Erin, Gracie and Daniel.
“In our society we have too few who do what she did,” Scandary said. “She was thoughtful. She made a fair assessment of what the situation was, and was truly able to see it from both sides. Such a rare individual. Her voice was respected by everybody.”
Mensay’s flair for handling almost any difficult scenario became well known at USA Swimming. Scandary says Mensay became the kind of person who could nimbly answer the kinds of questions no one else savored.
“I spoke to her at least once a day, sometimes three or four times a day as we got closer to national meets,” Scandary said. “Her loyalty was always to doing the right thing. And you knew when she gave her opinion, it was for the good of all.”
And for all of her achievements as a key figure within USA Swimming, Mensay’s sudden loss looms even larger to those who were her friends.
“We were all so fortunate to have worked with her,” Unger said. “This woman did it right.”