Going for the Gold: "The Paralympics found me"

By Annemarie Blanco | July 02, 2015, 12:51 p.m. (ET)

Katie Holloway, pictured above in number 5, competes with Team USA at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. 

Twice a week, Going for the Gold will highlight a member of Team USA’s Parapan American roster leading up to the games beginning on August 7. Features will take a deeper look at a member of each of the 14 Paralympic sports that the U.S. will compete in during the 2015 Parapan American Games, held in Toronto. The fourth installment spotlights sitting volleyball athlete Katie Holloway (Lake Stevens, Washington).

Katie Holloway is no stranger to the limelight. A star athlete in high school and four year Division I basketball player at California State – Northridge, her accolades are endless.

After years of playing able-bodied collegiate sports, Holloway stumbled upon an interest in sitting volleyball which changed her life forever.

“It’s funny I heard somebody say something about how the Paralympics found me,” gushed Holloway. “I think that’s true for a lot of people that I’ve met. That’s how it worked for me.”

After the appearance of the Paralympic volleyball team at her school, Holloway was invited out to a training camp.

“It was so different than anything I’d ever experienced before in sport and become therapeutic for me because I was always in able-bodied sports and not feeling myself. For me to play at the highest level in volleyball, it was kind of a natural fit and just felt right.”

Since the seasons took place during different times, Holloway was able to play both sports throughout her collegiate career with open arms from her coaches as a means of keeping her in shape. With a new found passion for volleyball and the ending of her NCAA eligibility, she moved to Oklahoma to purse the volleyball full time.

Looking back, Holloway still attributes much of her Paralympic success to what she learned from her time competing in basketball. 

“My college experience was a huge foundation that provided me the ability to see how much mentally I can take,” said Holloway. “They push you to the most physical extent that you can go, which then in turn pushes you mentally. The lesson I learned from college really set the foundation for the capacity of how much mentally I could take, in sports, in life and my character.

Now, the two-time Paralympic silver medalist is taking on another role, one of a leader as her team heads into the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games this August.

“I’m always striving to better myself and be aware of what it is I’m capable of, so in a sense I feel like it’s somewhat natural for me to push for that leadership role,” said Holloway. “It’s interesting the team keeps getting younger, but we keep getting better. The more we can learn and grow together as a team the better and that starts with a mixture of leadership from our coaching staff and veterans on the team. Because we have such big age differences, it’s not necessarily an easy task. I’ve been on the team; I’m experienced from going to a few games so I think people naturally look to that.”

For Holloway, the road to greatness hasn’t always been an easy one. A shattered marriage between her parents and the loss of loved ones made it hard for her to keep strong bonds with teammates.

“In 2010, I was in a very upsetting place during our world championships and I took it out a lot on my team,” Holloway explained. “It was really hard for me emotionally during that time to mentally give everything to my team.”

“I feel like my family had been my rock through college and when my parents got divorced, it felt like I lost that a little bit. It took the next year or two to build back the trust from my own team and to let them know I’m not in that bad place, it’s getting better and I’m not going to take it out on them anymore.”

Having that experience in her past has made Holloway dedicated to making sure a similar situation never arises again. For now, Holloway’s first focus lies in aiding her team to use Toronto as a building block for the upcoming Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

“Because we qualified so early, we need to focus on Toronto as an opportunity for us to get better and take advantage of how strong we can actually play as a team together,” said Holloway. “We can really look at it as a stepping stone to getting to know who we are as a team.”

When’s she’s not training or working full time as a recreational therapist, Holloway is also helping to bringing the Paralympic Movement to the forefront of American culture.

“We have a lot of ground to cover as far as making sure people are aware year round and not just on our Olympic/Paralympic years,” Holloway explained. “One of the biggest things I’m learning as I come closer to the movement is the importance of taking a step back to look at the bigger picture.”

“Our sponsors are really the ones that are making and creating awareness around the Paralympics specifically. It’s not necessarily their job, but I don’t think they realize how much power they do have as far as getting the brand out to who we are as athletes. I’m excited about how many great sponsors out there deciding to activate on the Paralympic side. I’m looking forward to see how much that grows in Rio.”

Parapan American sitting volleyball competitions will be held at the Parapan Am Aquatics Center and Field House beginning on Saturday, August 8 and concluding on Friday, August 14. The U.S. roster includes Paralympians Kari Miller, Kaleo Kanahele and Heather Erickson. For more information on the upcoming Parapan American Games visit Toronto2015.org.