By Scott Prater
For five days a week, 2nd Lt. Mary Holman wakes before dawn, drives to the local aquatic center and jumps into a pool of frigid water.
“It’s got to be cold; the colder the better,” she said. “Nothing is worse than having to train in a warm pool.”
Oftentimes, her twin sister 2nd Lt. Sara Holman joins the activity. Competitive swimming is something they’ve done regularly since they were teenagers. During their high school years, they competed in both distance swimming and synchronized swimming. Upon graduation, they both swam competitively for the University of South Dakota. Sara even earned a NCAA Division II Swimmer of the Week award during her junior year.
Mary, a Wideband Global SATCOM operator for the 3rd Space Operations Squadron, and Sara, a GPS payload systems operator in the 2nd Space Operations Squadron, swim to stay in shape. Despite their full-time Air Force careers, they also train for competition.
The pair recently returned from the FINA World Masters Championships in Montreal, Quebec, Canada where both logged multiple top-10 finishes in their age group.
“She’s better at the backstroke, whereas I feel more comfortable with the freestyle events,” Mary said. “Otherwise, we’re pretty much on the same level when it comes to our competitive performance.”
The pair took permissive temporary duty to compete in the international event, which featured swimmers from more than 41 countries. They spent 10 days in Montreal and relished the experience.
Though they swim and train for a local team and compete at masters events (meets for swimmers over 18) on occasion, either locally or nationally, they never competed internationally before August. Eager to participate, they kept track of the FINA World Championships and learned how to qualify for the event.
“They hold the FINA event every two years at different locations around the world,” Sara said. “We knew about this one in Montreal well before it took place. We submitted our best times to the organization’s competition committee and hoped we could gain permission from our squadron leadership if we ended up qualifying.”
Ultimately, both sisters qualified in five events. Still, they were wary of getting too excited because they knew they would have to receive permission from their squadron leaders.
“My commanders were really supportive and helpful,” Sara said. “Somehow they managed to figure out a schedule that allowed me to take the time off.”
Mary’s 3 SOPS leadership managed the feat as well, so both twins were able to compete. They arrived in Montreal Aug. 1 and each swam the same five races. Since event organizers had to fit more than 5,000 swimmers into competition, there were no preliminary races. Each heat was deemed a final and organizers then determined event winners and placers by their individual times in each heat.
Sara took fourth place in the 800 meter freestyle event, sixth place in the 400 freestyle and seventh in the 200 backstroke. Meanwhile, Mary was sixth in the 800 freestyle, seventh in the 400 freestyle and 11th in the 200 freestyle.
“We had a great time,” Sara said. “Since we competed in one event each day, that left us plenty of time to see the sights and experience Montreal.”
Though the FINA world swim meet is usually held every two years, event directors decided to hold the next event in 2015 in Kazan, Russia, an event the Holman sisters hope to make.
“I’ve never been [there], so that would be an incredible experience,” Mary said.
Even if they don’t end up competing at the next FINA World Championships, they’ll probably never stop swimming and they say it’s something that fits well into a military lifestyle.
“I would recommend the sport to anyone who wants to stay in shape,” Sara said. “It’s a great cardio workout and its low impact. It’s a sport or activity that people can do while they are injured and more importantly, something they can keep doing as they age. It’s a lifelong activity.”
As Air Force officers, managing time for the sport requires constant and firm discipline for getting up early.
“I admit, sometimes I don’t want to get up,” Mary said. “But, hitting the water in the morning is exhilarating and I’m always wide awake when I roll into work.”