As part of Metro’s ongoing coverage leading up to the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games in London, we’re introducing readers to the athletes who will be representing the United States. Previously: fencer Daryl Homer, gymnast Aly Raisman, swimmer Ryan Lochte, distance-runner Molly Huddle, equestrian Karen O’Connor, marathoner Ryan Hall and wrestler Jordan Burroughs.
It would take most people months, if not years, to bounce back from a devastating injury, but Paralympic athlete April Holmes knew within two weeks of losing her leg that she wanted to represent the U.S. as a serious competitor on the track.
In 2001, Holmes was involved in a train accident that forced doctors to amputate her left leg below the knee. A life-long basketball player, she was overwhelmed by the amputation and initially feared her days in sports were over.
“I thought I would never be able to run or play basketball again, and I had done that since I was 5-years-old and it had brought joy into my life,” Holmes told Metro. “To wake up and know I’d never play again, it was devastating.”
She credits her surgeon, Dr. William Delong, with planting the idea in her mind to embrace her new body and turn a disability into an incredible ability in athletics. Less than two weeks after her amputation, Delong was bringing her magazines about the Paralympic Games.
“Before that, I never knew about it,” Holmes said. “For him to give me these, I thought he was crazy. But as I searched through the magazines, I learned a whole lot about prosthetic devices.”
From there, a dream was born. Not only did Holmes decide she wanted to become a Paralympic athlete, she had made up her mind that she would be the best.
“I had to go to rehab and get a leg,” Holmes said. “I definitely wanted to be able to represent the U.S. and be the best in the world, and have gold medals.”
And that’s exactly what Holmes did. By 2002, she was training for a career in Paralympic track & field. Proving to be a dominating force in her sport, she went on to set world records in the 100, 200 and 400 meters.
At the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, she won bronze in the women’s long jump. At the 2008 games in Beijing, she took home gold in the women’s 100 meters.
Holmes has spent the last year training in Florida, where up to six hours of her day was spent on the track in preparation of her third trip to the Paralympic Games, this time in London.
“The stress doesn’t go away, but it builds excitement knowing you are going to a different city and seeing the venues you will compete at,” Holmes said. “You go in with expectations of being the greatest and coming away with gold, so the stress doesn’t go away, but you adapt.”
Her dedication is inspiring both on and off the track. When she isn’t training, she’s providing scholarships and medical equipment to disabled people through her non-profit the April Holmes Foundation.
When asked what keeps her motivated, Holmes said it’s as simple as the moment a national anthem is played at the end of a race.
“Would you rather hear yours or that of another country?” she said. “That’s always a motivation for me.”