Katie Holloway could have taken a break after leading the U.S. Paralympic Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team to a silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Instead, she decided to reach full speed on the Road to Rio.
The first stop? August’s Moscow Open Cup in Russia, where Team USA defeated three-time Paralympic gold medalist China for the first time in history to take the title.
“When we first defeated China in the gold medal match, our excitement was because we won the tournament. You’re always excited about that, no matter what team is on the other side of the net,” Holloway said. “We were already celebrating when we realized how much more significant the win was than just a tournament title. We beat China.”
The U.S. has a string of crucial losses to China, including the finals of the last two Paralympic Games and earlier in the Moscow Open Cup.
“Although China was a significantly different looking team than in London, we still felt this was a true win against a team we have never beaten in tournament play,” Holloway wrote in her blog for WSN247.
The past was the past.
On Aug. 18, 2013, Holloway and the tournament’s most valuable player Heather Erickson helped Team USA rally back from an 8-1 deficit in the first set. Erickson finished with 19 points on 13 attacks and five blocks while Holloway had 13 points on 11 kills and two aces in the tournament finale.
“Starting the new quad with the win is a huge step in the right direction for us as we start the new quad,” Holloway. “We’re not in Rio yet but right now, we’re on the top of the world.”
Team USA also swept Brazil on Saturday, 25-16, 25-17, 25-17, at the 2013 ParaVolley Pan American Zonal Championships in Edmond, Okla. With the win, the U.S. claimed a spot at the 2014 ParaVolley World Championships in Poland, a qualifier for Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“I am so proud to be a leader for this team,” she said.
Tonight Holloway will be recognized by the Women’s Sports Foundation as one of the finalists for the Sportswoman of the Year in the team category, along with athletes like basketball’s Candace Parker and hockey’s Amanda Kessel. She is the only Paralympic athlete nominated for the award.
“I’m definitely honored to be a nominee for the Sportswoman of the Year Award,” Holloway said. “My name might be the one listed but it is truly a testament to the hard work that everyone else has put in to making me a better player. Without my teammates and coaches, I would never have the opportunities I have had.”
Three-time Paralympic gold medalist Tatyana McFadden, who won six world titles at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in July, is a nominee for the individual Sportswoman of the Year. Other nominees include snowboarding’s Kelly Clark, swimming’s Missy Franklin and tennis’ Serena Williams.
“Tatyana is a phenomenal athlete who truly lives the Paralympic Movement,” said Holloway, who was on the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Paralympic Teams along with McFadden. “Her athletic accomplishments are really just a small part of what makes her so incredible. She has had such an impact on the opportunities that disabled athletes have, especially wheelchair athletes, and how Paralympians are viewed in the community.”
Although she shies away from the attention, Holloway has also raised the profile for Paralympic sport. She became the first amputee to play NCAA Division I college basketball before embarking on a sitting volleyball career.
“When I first started in Paralympic sport, I always felt the need to tell people that while Special Olympics is incredible, Paralympians are different from Special Olympians. They are separate events,” Holloway said. “Now when I tell people I’m a Paralympian, they know what that word means. People recognize what I am talking about.”
She gives credit to others including The Hartford, which helped found U.S. Paralympics in 2001.
“Our community partners and sponsors are the reason that people are educated,” Holloway said. “They have taken a crucial role in moving the Paralympic Movement forward. Years ago, it was people educating people one-on-one, and now sponsors are bringing Paralympics to everyone. They’re telling our stories on a scale that we never could have imagined before.”
Six sponsors including BMW, BP, Citi, Liberty Mutual Insurance and Procter & Gamble signed to support unprecedented broadcast and online coverage of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games on NBC, NBC Sports Network and TeamUSA.org. NBC and NBCSN will show 66 hours of coverage from the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, an increase of 60.5 hours from the coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
“I am so fortune to be a part of the progression of the Paralympics. From even my first Games until now, the Movement has grown so much,” Holloway said.
The growth inspired Holloway to take a larger role.
She recently became involved with the governance of Paralympic sport, serving on the Athletes’ Advisory Council, a group responsible for broadening communication between the United States Olympic Committee and active athletes. The AAC also serves as a source of input and advice to the USOC board of directors.
“Paralympics has done so much for me as a person, I want to make sure that it carries forward for the next generation,” she said. “I want to share what I’ve experienced with others because our Movement has so much potential. There is so much room to grow.”
After London, Holloway also became a recreation therapist at the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.
“I found sitting volleyball in a time I was very negative about myself,” said Holloway, who recently moved from Oklahoma to California. “It was so therapeutic.”
It was then Holloway developed a love for much more than the sitting volleyball court.
“I realized at that point that I forever want to be a part of the Movement and create an opportunity for others,” Holloway said. “I want others to use sports and recreation, or whatever they like to do, as motivation to achieve more than they ever thought they could.”
Just like she has.