Katie Holloway’s Journey To Becoming A Paralympic Gold Medalist

Paralympic Gold Medalist and Two-Time Silver Medalist

 

I’m Katie Holloway, Paralympic Gold Medalist, two-time Silver Medalist and all-time advocate for the volleyball world to get acquainted with Sitting Volleyball! My life in volleyball really began before I even realized I loved volleyball- I was at Northridge playing on the Women’s Basketball team as the first female amputee to play at the Division I level. I was amputated at 2 years old due to a condition called fibular hemimelia, meaning I was born without a fibula bone in my right leg so my parents had to make the decision to amputate, which is still the best option today.

While competing at Northridge, I was introduced to the Paralympic Sitting Volleyball team during one of their training camps which were coordinated by Jeff Stork – another beach volley great. This is also where I first came to know my future lifelong volley friends and AVP super couple, Jen Fopma and Jeff Conover. During my junior year there, at age 19, I became a part of the USA Women’s Sitting Volleyball team. I graduated in 2008 and attended the Beijing Paralympics later that year, winning my first Silver medal. That was also the year I began falling in love with the volleyball community.

Flash forward to 2018, I have been competing in Sitting Volleyball for 12 years and can finally say we are Gold medalists! The growth of our sport has been huge across the country and is now considered another discipline alongside Indoor and Beach within USA Volleyball.

Here are some frequently-asked-questions I get about myself and sitting volleyball:

 

How is sitting volleyball similar to indoor volleyball?  How is it different?

Sitting Volleyball is similar in a lot of ways to indoor. All the rules are the same except:

  1. You can block the serve.
  2. The court is smaller and the net is lower.
  3. When you contact the ball, you have to have one cheek on the ground at all times. (This is defined by the top of your shoulder to the bottom of your bottom)

 

What are the unique advantages or disadvantages associated with sitting volleyball?

The unique advantage of sitting volleyball is that it truly (like beach) is a lifelong discipline of volleyball that anyone can play. Because indoor is wearing on the knees, we often get people who like sitting because they can compete again without the impact on joints. The disadvantage is that it does impact other major groups like the shoulders and wrists. We also are at a disadvantage because not many people in the country know about our sport or play it. We are always trying to increase awareness and find other volleyball people to come play.

 

How often do you and Team USA train?

Our training window is January-November, coming together once a month for camps and competitions. We have men and women living in Edmond, Oklahoma at our training site at the University of Central Oklahoma who are “residents.” These athletes train Monday-Friday 2-3 hours per day together. Additionally, we have men and women who live all over the country as “non-residents.” Non-residents like myself often work full-time to support themselves and establish their own regimens in their community to play. I personally have established myself at a Paralympic Sport Club called the Riekes Center in Menlo Park, CA where I am always recruiting adult competitive volley friends to join me in my practices. Often, we pull from junior club levels as well as any person in the community we find that wants to play! We then travel once a month to Oklahoma or to a USAV Club Qualifier like Crossroads to support the Juniors and compete in friendly matches. We typically have 1-2 international competitions per year.

 

You are a three-time Paralympian. Tell us about your experience at the games.

Wow – each quad has been such a different experience for me on the team and each Games. The first few years leading up to Beijing was just eye opening to the world of Paralympics. Fun fact- the Paralympic Games come a few weeks after the Olympics and is a separate set of Games played in the same host city. I moved to Oklahoma to train full-time as a resident leading up to London and it was absolutely heartbreaking to lose to China once again in the Gold medal match in 2012. In 2013, I moved back to Northern California and began the journey of balancing a career and competing leading up to Rio. The things that stand out to me are the experiences with my team, the people I have become close within the volleyball world, and all the amazing places we’ve been able to compete at – Times Square 2012, NCAA Final Four audience 2017, on a theater stage in the Netherlands 2018.

 

 

 

You and Team USA won gold in Rio — tell us about that journey and how you felt.

Rio was such an incredible journey to get to. The years leading up to the Rio Paralympics were a challenge for me personally trying to find balance between working, training, and staying mentally fit to compete at the elite level. But the team could not have performed more perfectly. IT’S A MUST WATCH! We finally took down China in crushing fashion. It couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a huge team effort and such a relief!

How has the AVP and beach volleyball community become a strong partner to Sitting Volleyball?

A few years back Kevin Barnett, Andrew Fuller, and Jon Aharoni came to play sitting with us during a demo at AVCA Louisville. Needless to say they were hooked! The next year I invited Kevin to play with my Adult Nationals Sitting Division team where he also brought The Net Live. Kevin also brought DJ Roueche with him to play and the rest is history. Since that time Kevin, DJ Roueche and I have found ways to connect and grow the sport. I have become a huge fan of AVP, attending at least 2 events per year- recently adding a Sitting court at the San Francisco stop the last two years thanks to Jeff Conover and the NorCal Volleyball Association (NCVA) Region. This is where Troy Field, Stafford Slick, Sean Rosenthal, Mark Schuermann, and Billy Allen got their feet wet.

At San Diego State earlier this year, Jon Aharoni asked Kelly Claes to join us and she helped grow the game by attending the USAV Adult Nationals as well as a local SoCal sitting tournament. All of this culminated this year where we won our first Gold Medal with Team Sit Happens at Nationals – Kevin, Jon, and Jeremy!

 

 

What is the biggest misconception about sitting volleyball?

Probably that it is easier since we are sitting. This is not the case. Try…you will quickly see it is far more difficult than what people initially imagine. I also found that many people who LOVE the sport of volleyball will love sitting volleyball just as much, if not more because it has a different set of challenges to conquer like learning how to move and play the ball at a faster rate.

 

If you could ask volleyball fans across the world one thing, what would you ask them in regards to supporting Team USA’s Sitting Volleyball team and the sitting volleyball community?

Come play! Try it out! Also, if you ever come across one of us in the Sitting Volleyball world, please use the term Paralympic. Like beach, we need to all help each other grow the awareness of our sport. And when you use the term Olympic, people are still not learning or hearing about the Paralympics. We are a separate entity than the Olympics but need to use the word more.

 

We see you’ve played with our very own DJ Roueche. Be honest… what’s your assessment of his sitting game 😉

Honestly, DJ Roueche’s sitting game is solid! He moves well on the court, he passes consistently well, and he uses his strengths from the beach to win Gold medals with us at Adult Nationals on team Sit Happens – high line ALL DAY!