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April 03, 2020 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily

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Olivia Carter’s swimming career has been

studded with peaks and relatively free of



shortage of first-place finishes and record-

setting times. She’s represented two top-

tier collegiate programs, as well as her

country, in competition. But any discussion

of winning or losing overlooks her love of


“I love the feeling of being in the water,

and having so much power to move that

water,” Carter said. “It’s an unreal feeling.”

That’s why the lowest point in her career

is right now. She’s been out of the water for

more than two weeks — the second-longest

such break since she was five. Without

the dependable structure of practice and

competition, Carter feels rudderless.

COVID-19 took away her chance at a

national championship last March and cut

her first semester at Michigan short. For one

of the first times in her life, Carter is staring

down an obstacle she cannot overcome.


Carter joined her second swim team the

same way she joined her most recent one: by

having the confidence to go for it.

She began swimming in the summer of

2004 in her hometown of Cary, N.C. At a

meet that summer, an opportunity to swim

on a year-round team presented itself in the

form of a tent handing out gear.

“I grabbed a free cap,” Carter said. “And

I ran up to my mom like ‘Look, I’m on the

team! They accepted me, I’m on the team!’”

It wasn’t as easy as Carter thought; she

still had to try out. But she made the team,

securing the spot entirely of her own volition.

The other constant in Carter’s pre-college

life — homeschooling— also began around

this time.

“When I was in it, and actually doing the

work, I think I might have had a different

opinion on it,” Carter said. “But looking back

on it, it really did shape who I am today.”

For Carter, the benefits of a homeschool


extracurricular activities that it allowed.

She accrued physical education credits by

going flying with her father, a professional

pilot. Trips to the zoo were frequent. But the

fun stuff only happened when Carter made

the deadline on her work — a responsibility

she held.

“It was really good for me to understand

how to manage my time and manage my

studies so that I could open up free time to

do things that I wanted to do,” she said.

When her family moved from Cary to

Greensboro in 2016, Carter began swimming

at the Enfinity Aquatic Club. Training

under Enfinity coach Korey McCulley,

she shed more than five seconds off her

200-yard butterfly time and wound up as

the No. 11 recruit for the class of 2018 on


“With that team, and with that new

coach, I was really, really able to achieve

my dreams,” Carter said. “I had always had

the dream, since 2008, 2012, of being on the

Olympic team. … Once I started swimming

with Enfinity … I started realizing that those

dreams could actually come true.”

She committed to Georgia, along with

three other swimmers ranked inside the top

25. Carter more than held her own in the

deep SEC; she won SEC Freshman of the

Year, was named to the All-SEC first team

and placed seventh in the 200-yard butterfly

at the NCAA championships.

But Carter had committed as a junior in

high school — the decision, which was the

right choice for her then, didn’t age well.

Academics weren’t the issue; while the

more structured schedule and classroom

environments were new to her, her prior


the challenge of college courses. It was

something harder to quantify.

“Over the course of my freshman year,

I didn’t quite feel like I fit,” she said. “The

hardest part for me was admitting the fact

that I didn’t feel like I fit. It’s one thing to

sense it, but it’s another thing to come out

and tell my parents, ‘I don’t feel like I fit

here.’ I can’t say anything bad about the

team; it was a totally personal decision.”

So Carter grabbed the bull by the horns

once again, announcing her intent to

transfer. Her original plan was to take an

Olympic redshirt for the following season

and train for Olympic Trials at Enfinity,

but by early October 2019, she committed to



Before she stepped foot in Ann Arbor as a

student for the first time, Carter had already

made a strong first impression.

She joined the Wolverines on their winter

break training trip to Key Largo, Fla. In her

Michigan debut at the Orange Bowl Classic,

Carter set the meet record for the 100-meter

butterfly. A performance like that appeared

par for the course considering the high

expectations of the Wolverines’ coaching


“She swims a lot of different events, so

she will be scoring a lot of points in different

places,” Michigan coach Mike Bottom said

after the meet.

Carter made good on these expectations

by helping Michigan to a win in each of

the season’s remaining dual meets. The

Wolverines went on to take second place at

the Big Ten championships, where Carter’s

win in the 200-yard butterfly, fastest in

conference history, fell short of the mark she

wanted: a personal best.

“We had so much more to give,” she said.

“So much more to give. It was really a big

disappointment that we couldn’t win Big

Tens, so I know that just added to the fire that

we were going to put on at NCAAs. I am 100

percent confident that we could have gone in

there and absolutely dominated.”

Another personal goal — competing at the

Olympic trials — was put on hold when the

summer Olympics were moved to 2021. She is

aware of the kind of work required to make

that dream come true: increased attention to

detail in the water, as well as weightlifting to

strengthen her upper body. But right now, the

quarantine is preventing Carter from getting

back to work.

“(This) doesn’t feel temporary,” she said.

“It feels like the end of the world.”


After a dual-meet win over Ohio State in

January, in which Carter won the 200-yard

butterfly, Michigan associate head coach Rick

Bishop paid her the ultimate compliment.

“Obviously we’re better because of her

performances in the pool,” Bishop said. “...

but we’re just better because she’s a great

contributing athlete and a great Michigan


Carter recognized the profundity of

the ‘Michigan woman’ title. She’s been a

Wolverine long enough to know that, but not

long enough to feel comfortable attaching it

to herself.

“I’m incredibly honored to have that title

already,” Carter said. “I feel like I haven’t

been there long enough to deserve that.”

It’s impossible to say when Carter will feel

that she deserves it. But when she can get

back to training, there is no doubt that she’ll

begin attacking her long list of goals — setting

a new personal best in the 200-yard butterfly,

scoring points for Michigan at national

championships and making the Olympic

team — with at least equal, if not increased,


She just needs a chance to move the water


For one of the
first times in her

life, Carter is

staring down an

obstacle she cannot



Jack Whitten
Daily Sports Writer

Photo courtesy of U-M Photography
Design by Jack Silberman

APRIL 3, 2020


swimmer adjusts
to being unable
to train

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