Sara Olsen

Sara Olsen MPH '17

May 10, 2019

The Women Divers Hall of Fame inducted Sara Olsen, a behavioral and community health doctoral student, as part of its 2019 class in recognition of her Navy diving career and nonprofit work advancing inclusive sport and fitness opportunities for people with disabilities.

Olsen and eight other honorees were inducted at Beneath the Sea, the country’s largest consumer scuba and dive show, in Secaucus, New Jersey, on March 30.

“The class of women I was inducted with — and the things that they’ve done for conservation and for research and for general exposure and awareness of life beneath the sea — is really overwhelming,” Olsen said. “To be counted among such an amazing group of women is pretty humbling.”

Olsen is one of few women from military backgrounds to be inducted into the hall of fame. With the Navy, she served aboard a salvage ship and a mobile diving and salvage unit, which brought her on aircraft, boat and body recovery expeditions from the coast of Virginia to the Strait of Gibraltar. She marked her deepest dive, at 240 feet, while working on the recovery of the USS Monitor, a Civil War ship that sunk off the coast of North Carolina.

Olsen then trained in explosive ordnance disposal, which included preparing for underwater missions to disable mines attached to ships or floating in the ocean. She has spent the last ten years in the Reserves and currently sits on the Navy Reserve Policy Board, making recommendations on policies affecting reservists.

Olsen was one of the first Master of Public Health students in the physical activity concentration offered from the Department of Kinesiology, and completed it in 2017. Now a doctoral student, she is conducting research to better understand the psychosocial benefits of community-based fitness for populations considered physically disabled and the barriers that exist to their participation.

She is a co-founder of Crossroads Adaptive Athletic Alliance, which sponsors professional seminars and competitions to make fitness and sports — including diving — inclusive of all abilities. It was that time spent with the adaptive community that inspired her to improve the way we think about and study disability in the U.S.

“A large part of my goal is to figure out a way to use research to provide voice to the adaptive athletes themselves,” Olsen said. “Too often I feel they’re researched about and not researched with. I feel like my role is not to find ways to speak for them but to find ways to make space for them to speak for themselves.”


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Sara Olsen