Growing up in Rochester, Indiana, Carl attended Rochester High School where he participated in track.
He entered Lake Forest in 1930 and went on to earn nine letters, three each in football, track and basketball. Captain of the track team, he ran in the Kansas Relays in 1931 and broke the 1920 Olympic record. He also competed in the Olympic Trials. A member of Digamma Alpha Upsilon, Carl was also elected to Iron Key.
Graduating with a biology degree, he worked as a tutor for a family and began training for airplane flying. In 1939 he took fifth place at the Intercollegiate All-Around Championship. In the same year he became an aeronautical instructor at Curtiss-Reynolds Airport. In 1941 he started a career as a co-pilot for United Airlines and in 1945 he was promoted to captain with United.