As April Holmes sharpens her focus on qualifying for a fourth Paralympic Games this summer, the 43-year-old sprinter is also reflecting on how the world — and Paralympic sport in particular — has changed over her long career.
“Paralympics as a whole is growing, and that’s great,” said Holmes, who’ll compete in the 100- and 200-meter races at the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials June 30-July 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It’s a great testament to the disability movement. People are ridding stereotypes of people with disabilities.”
Holmes has come a long way since taking up Paralympic sports in 2001, after a train crushed her left leg, leading to amputation. Prior to her injury, she was a sprinter and jumper at Norfolk State in Virginia during the mid-1990s. After discovering the Paralympic Games while recovering from her injury, she set new goals of making Team USA, winning gold medals and breaking records.
She’s three for three on those.
Holmes has won three Paralympic medals — a bronze medal in the long jump at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, a gold in the 100-meter at the Beijing 2008 Games and another bronze medal in the 100 at the 2012 Games in London.
She’s also a national champion in the long jump, 100 and 200.
The residuals have been as impressive.
Holmes authored one published book, “The Winning Way,” and is nearly finished with her second book, “Stop Limping Thru Life, Start Running.”
She’s a regular on many speaking engagements, and has been interviewed on countless TV programs. She serves as an athlete ambassador on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and as a mentor for Classroom Champions. She’s won the United States Olympic Committee Spirit Award, the U.S. Paralympics Mentor of the Year award and the National Association of Black Journalist Pioneer Award.
She helped First Lady Michelle Obama on the “Let’s Move” health campaign, has been featured in several music videos and was the inspiration behind Air Jordan’s 2009 signature shoe with APT technology.
All the while, she heads up the April Holmes Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to assisting people with physical and learning disabilities through scholarships and medical equipment. She credits her success in Paralympic track to helping others.
“The Paralympic movement is making great strides in improving lives,” Holmes said. “That’s what athletics is supposed to do, is give people hope in how they can do things.”
She still trains to win despite her busy schedule and shows no signs of slowing down against younger competition.
“I still put in quality work in the weight room and on the track,” Holmes said. “I am better focused on nutrition. No one is the same as they were 16 years ago, and I believe I’ve gotten a lot smarter with things I’ve done.”
Meanwhile, the overall level of competition has risen, Holmes says, a product of increased time invested into the sport.
“Now you have more full-time athletes and there are more sponsors to make it easier to train full-time, and that’s made it much more competitive than it was in 2004,” Holmes said.
Holmes talked about 2008 in Beijing, and how it was eye opening to many of the residents in China.
“Before Beijing, people with disabilities really weren’t seen much,” Holmes said. “But as a result of the Games, they made their city handicap-friendly, and it’s just another example of the movement and changing the way people think.”
Holmes said she’s taken a personal responsibility in making sure she continues to work hard and make the requisite sacrifices to leave a legacy for the athletes who come after her.
“Having a disability seems like the most horrible thing in the world, but you have to make the best out of it,” Holmes said. “You just have to keep knocking down doors and breaking ceilings.”
She said the thought of retirement any time soon doesn’t even exist, and that she’ll keep appreciating the sport that unexpectedly brought so much to her life.
“I’ll keep doing this as long as I want to,” Holmes said. “If I wake up one morning and think I don’t want to do this anymore, then I’ll walk away from it. But I’m enjoying seeing the sport grow. It’s exciting to see so many younger women working hard to wear that American jersey. It’s one of the most gratifying things to me.”
Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.