From Butterfly to Fly Girl

It seems only fitting that Olivia Carter, EAA 1143354, excelled in the swimming pool in the butterfly. As the 2021 NCAA champion in the 200-yard version of that event, Olivia is taking those ‘flying’ skills in a new direction. She recently announced she’d be retiring from swimming to focus on her career as a pilot, something she’s been interested in doing for some time.

“Growing up, my dad was a pilot, and so I watched him be a pilot and listened to all of his adventures, and was just very mesmerized by that as a child, and would ask to see pictures of the cockpit and all sorts of fun airplane nerd stuff,” she said. “He really kind of guided me along to increase my interest in aviation, and it got to a point where I was probably no more than four or five years old and I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to be a pilot. I know that I’m going to be a pilot.’”

Olivia flew with her father in the family’s Piper Pacer for a number of years before heading off to her freshman year at the University of Georgia, winning the SEC championship in the 200-yard butterfly. The summer after her freshman year, she earned her private pilot certificate and then transferred to the University of Michigan, where she’ll be graduating this December. It was as a Wolverine that she really made a name for herself in the swimming world, winning the Big Ten championship in the 200-yard butterfly three straight years, as well as the national title during her junior season. In addition, she competed at numerous international competitions over the years, placing highly in each of them. But despite all her swimming accomplishments, Olivia knew that the goal she had as a kid, to become a pilot, was what she wanted to do with her life.

This past summer, with her mind set that she was going to pursue her dream of becoming a pilot, she attended EAA AirVenture Oshkosh for the first time, having not been able to attend in years past because of her swimming commitments. After graduating from Michigan in December, she plans on enrolling in a flight school in early 2023 and making her way through the ratings she’ll need to become an airline pilot. Ultimately her goal is to one day fly for FedEx. In the meantime, Olivia flies in the family RV-10 with her dad.

While swimming and aviation may not seem to go hand in hand, there are many lessons she’s learned during her development as a swimmer that she believes will come in handy as she transitions to her pilot career.

“I think one of the biggest things for me is dedication,” Olivia explained. “Swimming took a lot of my time, and some sacrifices in my social life and other areas of my life, and I think that, especially during flight school, I’m going to be dedicated to that. And it’s not easy, it’s not financially easy to get through that, but the dedication I’ve learned in swimming will definitely translate to my dedication in wanting to become a pilot, and being able to see the goal, the light at the end of the tunnel. For me, in my college years, the NCAA title was the goal. That was what I wanted to check off my list. And I think the same thing goes for flight training. Eventually, I want to be at an airline, and that’s kind of the big goal, the light at the end of the tunnel, and so I’m just working towards that, keeping that goal in mind.

“The training every single day [for swimming], the workout is hard. I’m tired, I just want to take a nap. And I think the same thing kind of goes towards flight training. I mean, the grind, the studying, the hours, all of this. But just really keeping that end goal in mind, I think that’s going to translate really well from the swimming world to the aviation world. Being okay with being a little bit uncomfortable, and being okay with accepting a challenge, and always learning, I think, too [will help]. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t go to practice and think ‘I’m going to learn something today. Either that’s going to be learning something about my stroke, learning something about my body, learning something about the way that I race.’ I think the same thing goes with being a pilot, and even outside of flight training, you’re always learning something.”

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