April Holmes Has One Leg – and A Very Big Heart

By  //  July 29, 2012

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MY TAKE

I recently met a remarkable woman.

April Holmes has set world records, won medals and is returning to compete again in next month’s Paralympic Games in London. (Image Courtesy of AprilHolmes.com)

She has one leg.

And she runs.

Fast.

Really fast.

She’s also an Olympian. Well, she’s a Paralympian, which is the next best thing if you’ve had a leg amputated. She has set world records, won medals and is returning to compete again in next month’s Paralympic Games in London.

So what do you think I asked April Holmes when we talked?

I asked her how she lost her leg.

“Only God can explain what happened,” Holmes tells me. “I really don’t know.”

Since I was unable to finagle an interview with God, I asked Holmes what she does know.

“How in the world I fell and got in there and that train got on my leg, I can’t explain it,” she says. “When you look at the gap between the train and the platform, it seems impossible get in between there. Like I said, only God can explain what happened.”

She tells me a story.

She was at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, standing at the platform with her boyfriend, getting ready to board a train and head to New York City. And then, the next thing she knows, she’s underneath a train, her left leg pinned beneath its weight.

“How in the world I fell and got in there and that train got on my leg, I can’t explain it,” she says. “When you look at the gap between the train and the platform, it seems impossible get in between there. Like I said, only God can explain what happened.”

Faced with a life-and-death situation and two urgent choices and no family to immediately consult, the emergency room doctor at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital had to decide to either (A) try to save the leg and likely put Holmes through perhaps dozens of painful surgeries with the reality that she’ll never walk normally again, or (B) amputate.

He chose (B).

After having her left leg amputating below the knee, the doctor then focused on what April Holmes could now do, instead of what she couldn’t do. Hovering over Holmes’ hospital bed, he told her about the Paralympics and the competition it affords athletes who are disabled. (Image Courtesy of AprilHolmes.com)

After amputating the left leg below the knee, the doctor then focused on what Holmes could now do, instead of what she couldn’t do. Hovering over Holmes’ hospital bed, he told her about the Paralympics and the competition it affords athletes who are disabled.

“He told me I looked like an athlete,” Holmes says, “or at least someone in very good shape.”

She was.

Holmes had run track at Norfolk State University, enjoying a nice athletic career, becoming an All-American. Mostly, though, her running was a means to an end – the end being a college scholarship and earning a degree. It led to a job working for Verizon Wireless.

Holmes hated it.

“Every day, when I’d walk in through the doors at work, I’d say a prayer, ‘God, I have no idea what lesson you’re trying to teach me, but I wish you’d speak up.’ ”

She yearned for some type of career in sports, traveling and meeting people. As she lay in her hospital bed, a thought occurred to her.

Is this it?

Could losing a leg really be the answer to her prayers?

Holmes looked at a magazine her doctor had given her, one that highlighted the recently completed 2000 Sidney Paralympic Games. She decided right then to set her sights on making the 2004 Athens Games.

“I’d never even been around someone who was an amputee,” she says. “I had no idea I could still run. Lying in that hospital bed, that’s where the dream started.”

Eventually, Holmes, above left, was fitted with a regular prosthetic and started rehab, and then one of those high-tech prosthetics, moving into this new phase of her life. (Image Courtesy of AprilHolmes.com)

Eventually, Holmes was fitted with a regular prosthetic and started rehab, and then one of those high-tech prosthetics, moving into this new phase of her life.

Were there down times? Sure. But Holmes felt like she had a calling, and it wasn’t just to become a paralympian.

“I didn’t have very many long spurts of darkness, mostly just a day or so here or there,” she says. “It wasn’t easy. I had to learn how to get around having to rely on a mechanical device. There were days when it was tough. Really, really tough. But I knew I had to keep moving.”

As she did, she discovered something.

Herself.

“I discovered who I was,” she says, “and what I learned is that I was the same person, but now without one leg. I had five less toes, which meant I got a discount when I got a pedicure.”

More importantly, it meant she could inspire through sports, as a disabled athlete, traveling and meeting others in the process.

“I remember so many times when I worked at Verizon, thinking, ‘This is not my purpose in life.’ ”

It took losing a leg to find that purpose.

In 2002, Holmes started the April Holmes Foundation, believing that this new journey she was on “was not just about me. It was about being an example, helping other people.”

April Holmes is a sought after motivational speaker and Michael Jordan took notice, bringing Holmes into his Jordan brand, a subsidiary under Nike. Not only was Holmes the first disabled athlete Jordan brought in, but also the first track and field athlete and the first female athlete. (Image Courtesy of AprilHolmes.com)

Part of setting that example was being the best she could be on one good leg and one prosthetic leg. Toward that goal, she made the 2004 Athens Games and the 2008 Beijing Games. Along the way, she set world records in the 100, 200 and 400 meters. She’s also the reigning 100-meter gold medalist from those 2008 Beijing Games.

Now she’s headed back to next month’s Paralympic Games in London. These days, Holmes also trains out of Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, under legendary track coach Brooks Johnson.

It’s her April Holmes Foundation, though, that means more to her than anything else. It’s her avenue to assist people with physical and learning disabilities, providing them hope and encouragement as well as scholarships and medical equipment.

Prior to losing her leg, Holmes was a self-described loner. Now she’s a sought after motivational speaker. She’s been to a White House state dinner, as well as two other functions with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Michael Jordan – yes, that Michael Jordan – took notice, bringing Holmes into his Jordan brand, a subsidiary under Nike. Not only was Holmes the first disabled athlete Jordan brought in, but also the first track and field athlete and the first female athlete.

“I grew up a huge Michael Jordan fan,” Holmes says, “so it’s quite an honor.”

But it isn’t the famous folks she’s met that mean the most to her. It’s the children she meets along the way, and hearing people young and old tell her that she’s inspired them to move, to run, to live life to its fullest.

She tells another story.

It isn’t the famous folks she’s met that mean the most to her. It’s the children she meets along the way, and hearing people young and old tell her that she’s inspired them to move, to run, to live life to its fullest.

Recently, while driving in Orlando, she noticed a father pushing a son around in a wheelchair. The little boy, no older than six or seven, had no legs. She u-turned her car around, got out and struck up a conversation with the little fellow and his father.

“The boy didn’t know what was going on, or what I was talking about until I removed my leg,” Holmes says. “Then his eyes lit up. It was my regular leg, so I went and got my running leg and showed that to him. To see the expression on his face was awesome. To let him know that these things were possible for him, to be able to run and maybe one day compete in the Paralympics, was just awesome.”

As she tells the story, you can feel April Holmes glowing.

As I was saying, I recently met a remarkable woman.

She has one leg.

And a very big heart.


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2 Comments on "April Holmes Has One Leg – and A Very Big Heart"

  1. Charley Hester July 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm · Reply

    GREAT story Peter! We need a lot more like this, with all the negative stuff going on in sports these days.

    Charley

  2. Susan Plymel July 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm · Reply

    Peter,

    What a story!!! Refreshing – bring on more !!!

    Susan M. Plymel

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