Katie Holloway personifies resilience.
The 24-year-old Washington native has always believed in working hard to achieve her goals. Her tenacity has garnered quite the trophy case: medals from world championships, a place on the All Big West Conference Freshman Team, two-time Big West Sixth Woman of the Year and an appearance in Sports Illustrated.
Separate the sports success, and she is a seemingly typical young woman. She resides in Edmond, her favorite movies are romantic comedies, she loves country music and, after finishing the third "Twilight" book, is part of Team Jacob. But there is one aspect that sets her apart from most of the athletes she's faced: She has a prosthetic right leg.
Since 2006, Holloway has been a member of the U.S. Paralympic Women's Sitting Volleyball team, which practices regularly at the University of Central Oklahoma. The sport is a fast-paced version of traditional volleyball and requires finely tuned reaction times and upper-body conditioning.
For Holloway, life has had its challenges, and she has doubted herself. With perseverance and motivation, however, she's proving people can do more than they think.
A life-changing decisionJane Holloway is on the road in Washington thinking about her daughter. She remembers the tough decisions, the multiple surgeries and the countless doctor visits she and her husband made with Katie. She calls it the worst time of her life.
When Katie was 6 months old, Jane said she noticed her daughter turned her foot outward while attempting to walk. Jane took her to a doctor, who dismissed it as her way of developing, but warned she may need re-evaluation if it persisted.
Four months later, Katie began walking. She used household items to aid her newfound ability, clinging to tables and potted plants, but the placement of her foot remained unchanged. Her parents became concerned and took her back to the doctor.
"We went back and took an X-ray," Jane said. "She was missing her fibula bone."
The diagnosis was easy to miss; Katie's birth was normal, and she had all of her toes, sometimes uncommon for her situation. The doctor recommended amputation, but the Holloways weren't ready for that option. Unsure of what to do, they searched for an alternative.
"We went to children's hospitals and spent the entire day seeing other doctors," Jane said. "Finally, at the end of the day, we were worn out. We just wanted to know how to fix her."
For the next year, Katie's parents researched their daughter's condition, traveling up and down the West Coast to visit specialists. When time was up, the Holloways decided amputation remained the best option.
The lack of a fibula bone in her right leg is known as fibular hemimelia. Without the bone, the muscles of the leg don't develop properly and can create a discrepancy in the affected leg's length compared to the other limb.
Jane remembers being worried that doctors would find a better option. Even up to the day of surgery, she didn't think she could go through with the decision. She draws in a deep breath and exhales slowly over the phone, reminded of the decision that can still make her emotional.
"We are so glad we made the choice (to amputate)," she said. "We could have done other surgeries to save the limb, but they would have come every year. She wouldn't have been able to run and play like other kids."
Katie's leg was amputated when she was 20 months old. By her second birthday, she was fit with a prosthesis.
Growing up an athleteJane and her husband, Jeff Holloway, were determined to raise Katie just as they did her older sister, Chelsey. She wasn't going to receive special treatment or be given an easy way out. She worked just as hard as the other kids at growing up, school and " most importantly to Katie " sports.
Now standing at 6 feet 3 inches tall, Katie is all grown up. She trains for nearly three hours every morning and conditions several times a day for the upcoming 2010 Sitting Volleyball World Championships hosted by UCO. She sits holding one leg crossed over the other while she catches a break between workouts. Thinking back, she recalls with a positive tone how she was raised, and although it may have been difficult at times, she wouldn't change a thing.
"I started playing sports when I was 4 years old," Katie said. "I tried basketball, softball, soccer, volleyball, T-ball. I've been running with the crowd ever since. I didn't have a favorite; it was just whatever sport was in season. I loved it."
In the process of being a kid, Katie needed additional surgeries. She sits back in her chair and explains the results of her operations, pointing to the location of tendons and bones.
"When I look back, I'm grateful for all of (the surgeries)," she said. "But in the process of all of these surgeries, I'm still trying to be a kid, you know, and play sports."
In school, Katie wore long socks to class and tried to cover her prosthetic leg. She was self-conscious about it; she didn't go swimming and didn't tell even her closest friends about it. Even through college, she didn't show her roommates. Her mother would speak with teachers before the school year so they understood more about her daughter's situation. She was teased in middle school by cruel classmates, but used their words as motivation.
From one court to anotherBy her senior year in high school, Katie was being recruited by NCAA Division I schools to play basketball. During a home visit by one of the teams, Katie explained to the coach her condition and showed him how she played. Days later, she was turned down.
The happy tone leaves her voice, but it doesn't disappear. A somber, serious mood surrounds her as she describes the times when someone didn't believe in her, discriminating against her.
"I told them I have a prosthetic leg, and they had no idea because I wore tall socks and my suspension sleeve looked like a knee brace," she said. "A week after the visit, the coach e-mailed saying, 'We've decided to go in a different direction.' Take that as you will, but I kinda saw it as them seeing my leg as an issue."
She held no ill feelings, however, because the rejection led her to choose California State University, Northridge, a team whose coaches cared for her, taking extra time to develop her into a better athlete. They took her to doctor visits when she received a new leg, created adaptive weightlifting programs for her and concentrated on her conditioning. She wasn't allowed to use her leg as a crutch to avoid working hard. She overcame pain from workouts and pushed herself further.
Katie graduated from college in 2008 with a degree in sociology. Looking back at her basketball career, her statistics reflect how much time she put into her game, which earned her several honors, not to mention the fact she played basketball with a prosthesis. She led the Big West Conference in field goals (.554) and averaged about 15 points and 7 rebounds per game. It was this success that garnered the attention of the U.S. Paralympic women's sitting volleyball team, which was training at the college during her sophomore season.
"My athletic trainer told me I should go check out the team," she said, excitement returning to her voice. "I walked in the gym, the coach sat me down at the net and said, 'Put your arms over the net.'"
She extends her arms as she measures up to the imaginary net. "My arms were this far over the net, and all of the girls go 'pssh pssh pssh pssh pssh.'" She laughs at the sound she creates as she places her hand over her mouth to imitate their whispers.
She was offered a trip to Atlanta to practice with the team, which she excitedly accepted. She made the transition from the basketball court to the volleyball court, a change that would not only extend into her career, but also into her personality. Once she became familiar with a group who lived similar lives, she become open about her leg.
"(In practice), I had to take my leg off in front of all these people, and it was awful!" she said. "I actually got to know them, hear their stories, and piece-by-piece fit together. They opened me up completely; girls my age who know what I'm going through."
Katie quickly grew to love the sport. Knowing she represented her country on a world stage gave her confidence and national pride. Under the U.S. banner, she competed in tournaments across the globe, and in 2008, she and her team were invited to the Paralympic Games in Beijing. She was in awe.
"The opening and closing ceremonies were just phenomenal," she said. "Thousands and thousands of people filled (the stadium). We watched the Olympics, and that was amazing, but this was for us."
Although she had one of the best times of her life at the Paralympic Games, it resulted in a bittersweet moment. The team won the silver medal. Katie is proud of this and her teammates' achievements, but believes they can be better. The silver medal drives her, reminding her of the gold she wishes to achieve.
'If you want it, you can have it'Katie takes off her prosthesis, revealing her stump. She's comfortable enough with herself that she shares her story in hopes to help others.
"When I was growing up, I had one leg because insurance sucks," she said with a chuckle. With the same giggle, she holds up her prosthetic: "I call this my pretty one because I can wear it with heels." She reaches under the table and pulls out her running leg, explaining that its lightweight design and curved platform makes it a useful jogging and sprinting appendage.
It's this attitude of self-confidence Katie wishes to instill into others. In a long line of goals she wishes to achieve, she wants to educate parents about the decision to amputate and give youth a chance to play adaptive sports, like sitting volleyball. This summer, she took the GRE test and applied to Oklahoma State University's leisure studies master's program.
"I've grown to love adaptive sports," she said. "Sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball and everything that encompasses therapeutic recreation, which is the field I want to pursue."
Katie's resilience through pain and adversity has given her a specific outlook on life. She describes it: "If you want it, you can have it." Her mother knows her determination, her stubbornness and, driving on that Washington road, she thinks about the goals people believed her daughter could never achieve.
"Did I think she could achieve this? Never," Jane said. "Nor did I think she could play NCAA Division I basketball. I'm so amazed of what she's accomplished."
Despite her disability, Katie has become a prolific athlete on the rise. She believes people can do more than they think. Someday, hopefully, they'll understand it, too.
"There is nothing beyond you," she said. "You can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it. You just have to work for it." "Luke Atkinson
Watch the WorldsThe University of Central Oklahoma will house more than 600 international athletes this week.
UCO, an official Olympic and Paralympic training site in Edmond, is hosting the 2010 Sitting Volleyball Worlds, a qualifying competition for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Teams from around the world will reside on campus and compete in a sitting volleyball tournament from Saturday to July 18.
"The (Sitting Volleyball) Worlds will bring 40 international teams to the U.S., and we want UCO and the state of Oklahoma to leave a lasting and great impression on all teams involved," said Steve Kreidler, UCO executive vice president.
Passes to the competition are $10 for adults and $5 for children and seniors. For more information, visit www.2010Worlds.com. "Luke Atkinson
top photo Katie Holloway.
second photo The team practicing.
third photo Katie Holloway practicing.
bottom photo The team listening to the coach's instruction at practice. photos/Mark Hancock