By Brian Hagberg
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
First Lt. Sara Holman has received many accolades during her swimming career. She earned NCAA Division II Swimmer of the Week honors during her junior year of college, took fourth place in the 800 meter freestyle event at the FINA World Masters Championships in Montreal last August and is currently ranked third in the nation in five events by U.S. Masters Swimming.
Now, she can add 2014 Air Force Athlete of the Year to that list.
“I wasn’t expecting [to win the award], but it was awesome,” Holman said. “It’s great; I never thought I would receive an Air Force-level award.”
Capt. Eric Miller, 2nd Space Operations Squadron, said the squadron is proud of Holman for earning the Athlete of the Year, and that it serves as motivation for the rest of the squadron.
“The squadron is extremely proud of Sara’s accomplishments,” he said. “We already knew she was an awesome analyst, but the fact that she beat out other world class athletes for such a competitive award is exciting and motivational. If you think about Olympians who train all their lives and training is their full-time job and Sara, who does this on the side, can crush most of them in the lap pool.”
Holman, an analyst with 2 SOPS, began her swimming career by joining the synchronized swimming team in the seventh grade. She said some of her teammates encouraged her to give competitive swimming a try and she eventually found she enjoyed it more than synchronized swimming.
“A lot of people on [the synchronized] team became good friends of mine and they were competitive [swimmers], so I tried it out,” Holman said. “When I got to college I just did competitive and dropped synchronized swimming.”
Holman swam during all four of her undergraduate years at the University of South Dakota. She attended graduate school at the University of Florida, and that’s where she discovered Masters swimming.
“When I was in grad school they had a Masters team, the Gator Swim Club,” she said. “I just got into it more and more.”
She joined the Colorado Masters Swimming Association after arriving at Schriever Air Force Base. She set CMSA records in the 800 Long Course Meters freestyle and 200 LCM backstroke events in 2014. Masters swimming is for swimmers 18 and older, with competition divided into 5-year age groups.
“Masters swimming has really expanded during the last five years,” Holman said.
Her association with Masters swimming led her to the FINA event in Montreal last August. She swam the maximum five events and had top ten times in three of them.
“It was my first big competition after I’d gone through Officer Training School,” Holman said. “There was a long period where I couldn’t swim and I didn’t know what to expect. My times were pretty good and I was happy with it.”
Typically, FINA holds its Worlds event every two years, but there is a change this year and they will be holding another Worlds event in August. This year, the event will be in Kazan, Russia, and Holman is already planning to compete. She has also set high goals for herself for the event.
“In Montreal my best place was fourth,” she said. “This time around I definitely want to medal. I want a gold medal, but I definitely want to break into the top three.”
She said her leadership has been supportive of her swimming career, especially when it comes to traveling to big events.
“My commander, Lt. Col. Benson, has been really supportive,” she said. “He loves when I go on these trips and I come back and tell him I did well.”
Miller said the dedication Holman gives to her swimming career only helps her become a better Airman and leader to her squadron.
“She has displayed an unwavering dedication to become a world class athlete,” Miller said. “Most days of the week, she shows up at the pool to train before work, logging miles in the water before most of us eat breakfast. As an officer and leader, you’ve got to set the example. If your example is excellence, which in her case it is, that’s a huge piece of the leadership puzzle.”
Miller said he’s already seen Holman’s dedication to excellence translated to her Air Force career, as her performance as a payload system operator for GPS earned her a spot in the analyst certification program.
“She was selected to undergo our rigorous analyst certification program, which can take as long as six months,” Miller said. “She completed it in half that time and is now an analyst-on-call, basically the first line of defense when the crew detects an anomaly with the system. This is a huge deal.”
Holman said it’s hard some days to get her swimming in, but it’s worth it to her to put in the extra time. She added she would put the time in even if she wasn’t a competitive swimmer because she loves the sport so much.
“I swim for fun and if I do well, that’s great,” she said. “But I would be swimming anyway and I’ll probably do it for the rest of my life just because I love it so much.”