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NRO swimmers make world-wide splash

Holman sisters

Capt. Sarah Holman, National Reconnaissance Office Aerospace Data Facility-Southwest mission director, and Capt. Mary Holman, NRO Operations Squadron mission director, share a smile during the FINA World Masters Swimming Championships at Budapest, Hungary, Aug. 20, 2017. The sisters have been swimming competitively since their high school years, and plan to continue competing in the sport. (Courtesy photo)


Following successful runs as student-athletes, Sara and Mary Holman entered the Air Force as officers, and continued to train with local U.S. Masters swimming teams during their off-duty time. Thereafter, the two discovered the International Swimming Federation World Masters Swimming Championships and jumped at the chance to compete on the international stage. Three International championship tournaments later, they continue to be among the world's top swimmers.

The sisters recently returned from competing at FINA's World championships in Budapest, Hungary. There, they garnered multiple top-ten finishes in their age group, including a silver medal, won by Sara in the 3-kilometer open-water swim. The two also competed in the 800 and 400-meter freestyle, 400-meter individual medley relay, 200-meter backstroke and 200-meter freestyle events.

"It was cool to be there, swimming against international competitors and have that dynamic of a big hyped-up competition," said Mary Holman, NRO Operations Squadron mission director. "The excitement of being in a different country and experiencing the championships along with the other competitors - it's a lot of fun."

The duo made their international swimming debut in 2014 at FINA's world championships in Montreal, followed by Kazan, Russia in 2015.

Held every two years at different locations around the world, the competition is one of the largest of its kind, drawing thousands of athletes from around the world.

"The World Masters Championship is the biggest FINA event there is," Mary said. "They said at the closing ceremony there were 6,500 participants across the aquatic disciplines (diving, water polo, synchronized swimming, open water swimming and pool swimming)."

Earning a spot to compete on the international stage is no easy task. Beyond achieving minimum qualifying times during the qualifying period, the months leading up to the competition required exceptional discipline and hard work. In addition to their regimented strength training, to build upper body and core strength, the two logged thousands of meters in the pool on a daily basis to physically and mentally prepare for the event.

"Several months before the competition, my training is typically 1.5-2 hours and 4,500-6,500 meters per practice, six days per week," said Sara Holman, NRO Aerospace Data Facility - Southwest mission director.

When they're not preparing to compete on the international stage, the twins serve as highly skilled space operations officers, supporting intelligence satellite programs and operations for the NRO.

Despite the competing demands of a 24/7 military operations schedule, their shared enjoyment of swimming and fitness keeps them committed to the sport. Both have swam competitively since high school, followed by collegiate swimming careers with the University of South Dakota, U.S. Masters swimming meets, and most recently, FINA's international competitions.

"It's always exciting traveling to a different country and meeting other swimmers from around the world while representing the United States," Sara said. "There's fierce competition since everyone has trained very hard to get to that level, but it's also a big social event that brings people together through their shared love of the sport."

Their enthusiasm for the sport will not wane anytime soon; with Budapest behind them, the two already have their sights set on the next major competition.

"Sarah and I are hoping to compete in the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, Korea,” Mary said. “This coming summer we can look forward to the Pan American Masters Championships in Orlando."

Budapest 2017 Results: 

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