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A recurring series on WGLT's Sound Ideas about the central Illinois athletes who do incredible things, even after the game is over.

Beyond Sports: U-High Swimmer Olivia Haerr Finds 'Happy Place' Near Water

Olivia Haerr diving into water
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Olivia Haerr was a state finalist in the 50 yard freestyle in 2019.

University High School senior Olivia Haerr has found another sport that brings her to what she calls her “happy place.”

Haerr was a state qualifier in swimming at U-High and helped the Pioneers relay team advance to state in 2018 and 2019. She has accepted an athletic scholarship to attend Northern Michigan University.

In WGLT’s latest installment of Beyond Sports, Haerr is now part of a new venture in competitive sports. She helped start a bass fishing team at the Illinois State University laboratory school in Normal.

Haerr has tried to recruit more students to the program. It started out with about 15 students as a club team last year. U-High plans to compete against other schools next spring.

She said some may find fishing “boring,” but she said it’s about much more than dropping a line in the water.

Olivia Haerr holding up fish in water
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Olivia Haerr said she learned to fish at a very young age and has always found water to be her 'happy place.'

“There’s so much more to bass fishing,” Haerr said, adding she first learned to fish before she was in preschool.

“What provides for a good bass fishing team are people who are just interested. If you have a passion for it, you are going to be able to do it.”

Haerr added finding coaches has been easy.

"There has been a lot of people on board with that and helping me among the way," she said.

Haerr is passionate about anything near water. She said also learned to swim at a young age because her family boated frequently.

“We’d go camping a lot and boating and water skiing and all those activities,” Haerr said. “It’s hard to get away (from the water) and I don’t want to because that’s just my happy place, so why not be able to do everything by there and figure out a way to do that?”

Haerr said water aligns closely with her career goals too. She wants to work in the fishery industry after she finishes school. Currently, Haerr works as a dietician at Evergreen Place, an assisted living facility in Normal. She said she likes being able to help others and just be there for them.

“It’s just my favorite thing. It feels like I have a bunch of grandparents,” Haerr quipped, adding the job has taught her patience and to always smile, because you never know what problems others around you may face.

Haerr said the coronavirus pandemic has limited interactions with residents. She said that taught her to be especially careful around others to limit the potential for spreading the virus among a more vulnerable population.

“It wasn’t being safe just for me doing COVID, it was being safe for others,” Haerr said. “It’s not just me going through it, it’s a lot of people who are going through it.”

The pandemic also ended a long string of state finals appearances for the U-High girls swim team last year. Haerr said she's excited to the get the chance to compete for a state finals bid again in November, not only for herself but for her teammates too.

“It was really cool to be able to go individually, but I’d say making it to state with our relays (team) is so much fun,” Haerr said.

Haerr said she sees her role on the team as more of a “big sister” to help the younger swimmers grow and carry on the tradition of success at U-High.

U-High swimming and diving coach Michelle Meyer said she has watched Haerr make that progression herself, from a quiet freshman to a selfless senior leader.

“If I need her in a different event than she was wanting to do or maybe not her best event she was definitely swum her best in any event we have ever needed her in as a team,” Meyer said.

Meyer said she hopes to see Haerr and her senior teammates will get the opportunity to return to state after COVID denied them the opportunity last year.

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