She’s only 16 and has dealt with cerebral palsy since birth. Yet Olivia Molnar hasn’t let that challenge stop her from succeeding in sports.
The Colony High School junior proved that this year when she was selected to the U.S. Paralympic Triathlon Junior/U23 Development Program. She learned about it in an email while sitting at an area restaurant and immediately started screaming.
Originally from Valparaiso, Indiana, the Molnars lived in India for nearly five years before moving to Castle Hills in early 2018 when Olivia’s father, Jacob, was transferred here for work.
“The whole family has been swimmers [including sister Paz, a 7th-grader at Killian Middle School], and she has always competed against able-bodied people,” said their mother, Karen. “From birth to eighth grade, she never participated in para sports. We weren’t plugged in, being that we were overseas.”
Olivia was introduced to paralympic sports soon after moving to Texas by Darlene Hunter, a 2016 paralympic gold and 2020 bronze medal-winning basketball player who is also a professor at the University of Texas-Arlington. Olivia started in basketball but at Hunter’s nudging switched to swimming when she started high school. She eventually took to the track, as well.
“She quickly learned she’s not good at team sports,” Karen said.
“It’s not that. It’s that I’m not good at hand-eye coordination,” Olivia said.
Karen admits that Olivia is not the fastest, but she is definitely one of the few athletes who compete in both track and swimming. Olivia competed in her first junior triathlon when she was 8.
“USAT looks for swimmers because it’s easier to train a swimmer to bike and run than it is teaching a runner to swim. Most specialize in sprints, but I prefer distance,” Olivia said. “Everybody who knows me knows I hate the track. I’d much prefer to be out on the road. It suits me to a T.”
Paralympics consists of a three-level pipeline – developmental, resident, and national. USA Triathlon annually partners with the Challenged Athletes Foundation to select the developmental team.
The 2021 squad consisted of five girls after including two girls and three boys in 2020. For Olivia, the paralympic triathlon features a combination of swimming, hand cycling, and wheelchair racing.
Olivia needed to submit a race resume application based on times from previous events to qualify for the developmental team. Her acceptance earned her a week-long trip to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, which wrapped up July 2. Nine days later, she competed in Tri Waco and won her division. On Aug. 1 at the Junior Nationals in Winchester, Ohio, she finished fourth overall in female PC, sixth overall in male/female PC, and second in the wheelchair division.
She then competed in an event in McKinney on Aug. 30 to qualify in the adult division but was hampered by a cold. Regardless, the three previous events made her eligible for the 2022 developmental team. But she still needs to apply again. USAT told the Molnars she is too young for the 2024 Olympics in Paris but would be of age for 2028 in Los Angeles.
When not swimming for The Colony, Olivia swims for Metroplex Aquatics Swim Club and Texas Regional Para Sport, which conducts junior events. On weekdays, she spends anywhere from four to five hours at The Colony’s Aquatics Center between high school and club practice. Then she and Jacob often work out for an hour or so at 24-Hour Fitness.
“It wasn’t until her high school years that she found the joy in sports,” Karen said. “From the parents’ side, we are proud of her. But it’s a challenge with the schedule – homework and practice and everything else. It is truly hectic. But I would not change it.”