Colleen Olson describes herself as stubborn, and someone who doesn’t complain. Both of these traits have served her well as she battled back after four reconstructive hip surgeries over the last four years. A member of the women’s swim team at Colorado State University, Olson only missed competing during her junior year due to the timing of two surgeries for an injury that occurred a long time ago, when she was playing soccer.
She also got a concussion that year and injured her shoulder in a car accident, but made it through a demanding five-week senior capstone project — again, post-surgery — in the summer of 2017 because she wanted to graduate in four years. She knew the field work, which included challenging hikes in in New Mexico and Colorado, would be rough.
“I told myself, ‘if you go, you’re there 100 percent,'” said Olson, who will graduate with a degree in geology, from the Warner College of Natural Resources. “No matter how much pain I was in, I had made the choice to go. It was the right choice. It was important for my lab partners that I do a good job. Every action you do, it impacts other people around you.”
Olson said she’s enjoyed learning about things like ice quake seismology. “It’s very new,” she explained, describing the glacier-related research, which is similar to how earthquakes are studied.
Focus and determination
Derek Schutt, an associate professor in the Department of Geosciences, said he was impressed with Olson’s focus and determination. She took several challenging graduate level classes as an undergraduate.
“Colleen has the mindset and self-discipline for constant progress,” he said. “This is the heart of academic talent and a hallmark of our most successful students.”
Olson’s determination to power forward despite physical challenges helped make her teammates even stronger, said CSU swimming coach Christopher Woodward.
“It’s really difficult for any athlete in my program to say they can’t balance the time needs, or the work is too difficult, when they see Colleen do it, time and time again,” he said. “Most athletes, after the third surgery, would have hung it up.”
The senior, from Littleton, Colorado, won two events in the final meet of the year, against Air Force. Woodward described the accomplishment as “remarkable.”
Olson can “do anything,” he said, when asked what he sees in her future. “Anytime someone tells her no, her response is: Watch me. She’s incredibly bright, and incredibly disciplined. She’ll be able to carve out a very strong career for herself.”