LCU’s Tinsley thankful for how Lord has guided her path

Dr. Sonia Tinsley has filled her life by eating her words.

Tinsley said she would never get a Ph.D. after the exhaustion of going to graduate school at night to earn her master’s degree after teaching school all day.

But 20 years ago, she did just that.

She also said she swore she would never run a marathon, despite the fact she had been active her entire life. But after she graduated from college, she started running and got hooked.

“The Lord opened that door, too,” she said. “I said I’d never do one, and I’ve run three.”

The chair of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Louisiana Christian University, Tinsley says she is thankful that the Lord knows best because her plan didn’t include all that she has accomplished in her life.

But that’s what “they” say about never saying never. It doesn’t stop what God has in store.

Tinsley grew up in Dry Prong and attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, where she played basketball. It was there that she met her husband, Jason, while they were both students.

They married in 1995, and Sonia began the life of a basketball coach’s wife.

“College coaching is tough professionally and on a marriage,” Jason said. “For 25 years, we moved on average every three years. You have to marry the right person or it won’t work out. Coaching consumes so much of your time.”

Sonia remembers taking her textbooks and notes and doing schoolwork for her master’s and doctoral degrees at the top of gymnasiums in various cities. She completed her Ph.D. while living in North Carolina in 2006.

The Tinsleys were married 15 years before their son Landon was born. About that time, the Tinsleys came to Louisiana College for the first time in 2010. Jason was head women’s basketball coach from 2010-2014, and Sonia started out in the Education Department as the director of the TEACH program before moving over to health and physical education in 2011.

But basketball called….and the Tinsleys answered the call again. Jason was offered the men’s basketball coaching position at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, and off they moved again in 2014.

While there, Sonia, who had always lived a very active life and had been long-distance running for years, started experiencing serious health issues.

“At first, I just thought it was stress or too much coffee,” she said. “But walking in from the parking lot, I would get light-headed and short of breath.”

Sonia was too busy to notice for a long time—working full-time and getting Landon to school and all his sporting events. Jason was coaching and often away from home.

“Sonia was getting him to every practice,” Jason said. “And at any time, she could have had a stroke or heart attack—while I was all over Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.”

Miraculously, she did finally see a specialist who found a tumor inside her heart the size of a tennis ball.  She was diagnosed with a myxoma—a benign growth in the heart—and open heart surgery was scheduled.

“The surgeon said it was the second largest tumor he ever removed, and the first was a man and he didn’t make it,” she said.

Sonia and Jason count their blessings.  She now has a heart monitor inserted in her chest to watch for irregular heartbeats, 24/7.

Another answer to prayer, the Tinsleys returned home to Louisiana in 2017. A faculty member at LCU called Sonia to tell her about a position opening up to be chair of health and exercise science.

“We’ve always gone where Jason’s job led us,” Sonia said. “Everywhere he’s coached, the Lord has opened a door for me, but this was for my career.”

Jason Tinsley said his favorite thing about his wife—in all their years of marriage—is that she hasn’t simply been a coach’s wife—she made a path for herself.

And that—she literally did—at LCU!

Upon returning, Sonia made it her goal to rehabilitate and upgrade the Parrish Fuller Fitness Trail. Thanks to grant money from The Rapides Foundation, the .4-mile trail and outdoor fitness area has been recognized as a National Demonstration Site for Outdoor Adult Fitness Parks by PlayCore.

“The hidden gem is literally a hidden gym,” she joked.

Tinsley’s own health scare has made her a serious advocate for getting others to get moving. Each semester she holds mini-seminars and physical activity challenges for faculty, staff, students and the community to participate in and learn more about ways to care for themselves at all stages of life.

Her colleagues and students, both current and former, all mention how much she has impacted their own lives and futures.

Dr. Christy Warren, a professor of education, first met Tinsley when she came to teach at LCU in 2010.

“Through the years, we have worked together on many projects and committees,” Warren said. “She brings knowledge, experience, attention to details, and organization to every task. Her strong work ethic and love for the Lord shows in everything she does. LCU is blessed to have her as a faculty member.”

McKenna Gehr, a graduating senior, said Tinsley’s straightforward teaching and personality have helped her inside the classroom and with personal issues, as well, a sentiment echoed by fellow classmate Ferontay Banks.

“She changed my perspective on how to learn because she loves to have interaction with her students whether it was on an assignment coming up or on a topic we were studying at the time,” said Clayton Crow. “Her classes opened me up to interact with classmates and also showed me group projects weren’t just tedious and boring, they were interactive and fun.”

International student Alejandro Aranda Molino said Tinsley was the first instructor who got to know him when he came to LCU, and she made a point to help him acclimate both as a student and in the community.

She cares about the university and her students,” Aranda Molino said, “and she is always working to help both grow.” 

Former student-turned-colleague Rebecca Prosperie Brown said her experience under the tutelage of Tinsley truly helped her find her career path and calling.

“She is such a blessing to me and a huge part of why I love LC,” Brown said. “God has used her twice to help guide me in a direction when I felt like I didn’t have one. Dr. Tinsley helped point me to graduate school at that pivotal point in my senior year when the future is so unknown and scary. She also informed me of the open position at LCU during my last semester of graduate school. Dr. Tinsley is someone I can always look to for guidance and love and will continue to learn from in the years to come. I’m beyond thankful for her.”



Media Release     |     Jan. 11, 2024     |     Pineville, Louisiana
Contact: Dr. Elizabeth B. Clarke, Director of University Communications |