Meet the Mason Nation: Olga O’Brien, general manager, Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center

Olga O'Brien stands in front of exercise machines at the Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center
Olga O'Brien, general manager of the Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Office of University Branding

Olga O’Brien

Job: General Manager, Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center

Olga O’Brien, general manager of the Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center, started her journey at George Mason University as an international student. O’Brien came to Mason from Prague on a volleyball scholarship. As a student, she started working as a part-time volleyball instructor at the Freedom Center in 1999—the year the center first opened. And she has been there ever since.

The Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center, a 110,000-square-foot facility at Mason’s Science and Technology Campus, operates under a Tripartite agreement including Mason, Prince William County, and the City of Manassas. The university manages all aspects of the daily administration and operation of the facility—its pools, gymnasium, exercise studios, racquetball courts, child care center, staffing, summer camps, and community programming. 

O’Brien has served in many roles at the Freedom Center, including programs manager, interim general manager, and general manager since 2017. A two-time Mason alum with a master’s in recreation administration and bachelor’s in physical education and health, O’Brien has had an indelible impact on the Freedom Center community.

Never the same routine. O’Brien said every day is different when working in a community recreation facility—and that’s what she loves about her job. “On a daily basis, I have the opportunity to interact with our members, staff, community partners, and university colleagues,” O’Brien said. “Each day presents different scenarios to navigate. I like the unknown of each day and the new challenges that arise.”

Olga O'Brien stands on an indoor track, which overlooks the basketball court on the floor below.
The Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center is home to many fitness opportunities, such as an indoor track, pools, and basketball courts. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Office of University Branding

Inspiring one another. The positive atmosphere of the Freedom Center motivates O’Brien and her team. Helping members reach their health and wellness goals is one of the biggest on-the-job rewards—and the endorphins are contagious. “Seeing members’ smiles as they check in to start their work out, or walk out of a group exercise class after pushing themselves to the next level—this inspires my team and me to continue working hard to improve each day,” O’Brien said. “We truly have created a ‘Freedom Family’ and look forward to seeing each other succeed each day.”

Learning from the best. O’Brien said her experiences as a student athlete and her education prepared her for a career in the recreation industry. “In addition to the knowledge learned in the classroom, I was able to grow as an individual and leader to better serve my team and facility,” O’Brien said. She also recognizes those who helped her along the way. “The most significant influence on my work has been my supervisor, mentor, and role model for more than 20 years: Ron Carmichael, director of administration and operations for the SciTech Campus,” O’Brien said. “He has provided opportunities to grow and find my specific leadership and management style, supported my goals and ideas, and shares a common passion for the health and wellness industry.”

Sports and serenity. When she’s not at work, O’Brien keeps pulse of her family’s athletic pursuits. “My sons’ passion for competitive basketball keeps us very busy, between practices and games,” she said. “I find joy and peace with gardening, yoga, playing pickleball, and volleyball.” Finding new places to travel and adventures to experience with her family also top the list.