07/20/06 — gold medals

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gold medals

By Steve Roush
Published in Sports on July 20, 2006 2:08 PM

Military veteran Johnny Holland remembers the day his life changed forever.

Actually, he only recalls part of it.

Holland, now 41, was driving down a road in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1987 when his car hit some ice and lost control.

After that, he doesn't remember what happened for the next 10 days.

"I was in the Army and I was stationed in Alaska, and I remember that I was in a car accident," the Goldsboro resident said. "When I woke up, I was in Tacoma, Washington."

Holland, who had been in the Army for five years, broke his neck in four places in the accident.

He was a quadriplegic.

"They told me they had flown me to Washington, and I spent a month and a half in traction," Holland said. "After that, they moved me to Richmond, Virginia for rehab."

For many, that would be the end of the story.

For Holland, however, it was the beginning of a new path.

He turned to sports. Fast forward nearly 20 years, and you'll find him a champion.

For the first time since that fateful day in '87, Holland returned to Alaska this month for the 2006 National Veterans Wheelchair Games, held in Anchorage from July 3-8.

He came home with a pair of gold medals in weightlifting and table tennis, won a silver in the quad rugby event, and took the bronze in bowling.

Competing against 550 athletes from 46 states, no one could hold a candle to Holland in the weightlifting competition, his best event, where he put up 277.5 pounds.

That may sound like a lot of weight, but considering Holland pushed up 425 pounds in Puerto Rico a few years back, it was a breeze.

"I've always been competitive -- I hate to lose," said Holland, who has the use of his hands and arms, but is considered a quadriplegic because he's lost some movement in those limbs. "But more than that, going to these games is like a reunion. I've made friends over the years that I get a chance to see, and while we do a little trash talking, when the event's over, we're just all good friends with a common goal."

Over the years, Holland estimates he's won around 35 golds in these competitions. He also shoots billiards in some of these games, and he also plays some hoops.

"Because of the way my arms are, I shoot hook shots," Holland said. "I play defense well, but I know my role.

"Everyone can't be a scorer."

When he's not a sports champion, Holland works at the RBC Center in Raleigh in their box office three or four days a week.

"A lot of people take things for granted," he said. "In my mind, I consider what happened as getting a second chance -- tomorrow isn't promised to anyone. I've done a lot of things in this chair that I might not have done otherwise."

Holland works, drives, and gets around just fine, thank you very much.

"I can do most things that able-bodied people can do," he says with a smile. "It just might take me a little longer."

Holland hopes his story can be a motivation to others.

"I want to encourage anyone who is wheelchair-bound to get out and get into some sort of sport or do something they've always wanted to do," he said. "Please don't let your chair be an excuse."


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