Monday, June 16, 2008
Paralympian April Holmes Transforms Tragedy into Triumph
By CHICO C. NORWOOD
On a cold, wintry January day in 2001, April Holmes’ life changed in the blink of an eye. One moment she was standing with her boyfriend on a train platform in Philadelphia waiting for a train to New York. The next minute she found herself lying underneath the 500-ton steel behemoth. Holmes has no memory of how she got there.
“I was on the platform trying to get on the train and before I knew it I was underneath the platform with the train actually resting on my leg. I do remember I was the last person to attempt to board the train. I remember it took them a few times to actually lift the train up and when that didn’t work then they tried to just back the train up,” she said. “I don’t know what happened. I just slipped on something and was underneath the platform and the train was on my leg.”
The next thing the Somerfield, N.J., native remembers is waking up in the hospital with the physician telling her that her left leg had been amputated below the knee.
A former high school track standout as a 400-meter state champion and collegiate All-American,
Holmes says the news that she had lost part of one of her legs was jolting.
“It was very difficult. I didn’t know anyone who had had their leg amputated. I didn’t know what life entailed for someone missing a limb. I remember loving track and basketball and one of the first things I said when I found out my leg had been amputated was ‘I’ll never be able to run or play basketball again,’” Holmes said.
The Bible says all things work together for good, and in the case of April Holmes, who says it was through a strong faith in God that she was able to endure, all things have worked for good.
Several days after her the operation to remove her leg, the doctor who performed the surgery gave Holmes several magazines about the Paralympic Games, a multi-sport event for athletes with physical, mental and sensorial disabilities, including mobility disabilities, amputees, visual disabilities and those with cerebral palsy.
“At first I thought he was crazy because I didn’t know anything about the Paralympics,” she said of the competition that is held every four years, following the Olympic Games, and is governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
After a few conversations with the doctor and her sister, Holmes dared to dream. Two months after the accident, she received her walking leg. By April 2001, she was jogging on a treadmill. In April 2002, she entered her first Paralympic track and field competition.
Today, Holmes is the world’s fastest female amputee. She holds world records (women’s T44 classification) in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter dashes. In the 2006 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships in Atlanta, she shattered her own world records in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes. At the 2006 IPC World Championships in Assen, Netherlands, Holmes put in gold winning performances in the 100-meter and 200-meter races. At the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, she brought home a bronze medal as she broke the American record for the long jump. This year she will represent the United States from Sept. 6-17 at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, where she is favored to bring home the gold.
Holmes’ track and field exploits have landed her a lucrative contract with basketball great Michael Jordan’s Jordan Brand, a division of NIKE Inc., because the brand touts itself as being “synonymous with style, grace, athleticism, and defying the odds of greatness and abilities.” Holmes, reportedly, is the first woman to be signed to the high-profile label that also boasts such stars as Utah Jazz forward Carmelo Anthony, the Boston Celtics’ Ray Allen, N. Y. Yankee Derek Jeter, Dallas Cowboys’ Terrell Owens, and the New Orleans Hornets’ Chris Paul.
Her performance on the field has also translated into celebrity off the field for the self-proclaimed loner. Holmes travels around the country sharing her life-changing experience with children, other amputees and soldiers returning from war.
“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be able to touch people’s lives and that to me is one of the most important things you can do in life. I appreciate the opportunity that I can go out and speak to kids, and go to hospitals to speak to people who have lost a limb. Also, there are a lot of war veterans who are coming back and have lost a limb. To be able to impart to them that there is life after amputation, that is the great thing I have been able to do,” she said.
Holmes was this year’s national spokesperson for Disability Insurance Awareness Month, which was held in May. According to the April Holmes Web site:
• 54 million Americans are physically disabled
• One of four children do not participate in elementary or secondary physical education programs
• 143 million Americans are family members of persons with disabilities
• 66 percent of Americans are disabled for more than six months of their life
• 3,000 people daily become amputees.
In response to these statistics, Holmes has established the April Holmes Foundation “to assist disabled individuals to reach their goals by encouraging them to rise above any obstacles that will give them an opportunity to develop to their full potential; thus, realizing that the opportunity of a challenge is rewarded with success.”
The foundation is currently holding an essay contest for the disabled. Participants should write a 230-word essay in response to the following question as it pertains to their level of disability: “If your Jordan shoes could talk the moment you put them on, what would they say about you? Where would they take you? Who would you inspire? What story would you tell?” The contest ends June 23.
What advice does Holmes offer, not just to the disabled, but to everyone?
“Keep dreaming and keep living. Everyone falls down at one time in your life, no matter where you are in life. No matter how much money you have, no matter where you came from, you fall down in life. And sometimes it can be a physical fall down and sometimes it can be a mental fall down. If you keep dreaming and keep faith, good things will happen to you,” she said.
For more information about April Holmes and her life-changing journey, the April Holmes Foundation and the essay contest, visit www.aprilholmes.com.