Katie Holloway has accomplished just about everything possible in her career.
A two-time gold medalist, MVP of the Paralympics and former Division I college basketball player, there’s not much Holloway hasn’t done.
The latest for the Everett native who attended Lake Stevens High School was capturing her second gold medal, this one on the heels of a canceled Paralympics a year ago. The United States defeated rival China to capture gold in sitting volleyball, the sport Holloway became most passionate about.
“As many (Paralympic) Games as we’ve all been to, it’s so unique and different,” Holloway said. “Our team is so talented and we really leaned on a lot of our experience.”
Holloway, who was named MVP for her gold-medal game performance, was one of those veteran players. She, along with Heather Erickson, is a four-time Paralympian; teammate Monique Matthews has made three appearances. Lora Webster, who just competed while pregnant, has been to all five sitting volleyball Paralympic Games. Eight players have combined for 27 Paralympic Games, and there were just four new players.
That was key, in Holloway’s mind, to take down China, which had won the first three gold medals in sitting volleyball. USA ended that streak in the Rio Games in 2016, and behind Holloway once again, defended that title in 2021.
“I don’t know if China has ever faced that kind of adversity in a match,” said the 35-year-old. “We were able to respond from when we lost to them (earlier in the Paralympics) and we communicated really well. We showed up trusting each other and it took literally every ounce of us to win.”
Holloway said the delay to go to Tokyo took a toll on her with all the uncertainty. She spent “a lot of time” with her sports psychologist and leaning on her teammates before finally getting the chance to compete again.
“I love the Paralympics,” said Holloway. “I get to see a lot of friends I don’t normally get to see. Just getting to see them compete and celebrating throughout with them, I just love it.”
The captain of the national team was born with fibular hemimelia and had her right foot amputated when she was 20 months old.
Before joining the sitting volleyball national team, Holloway had built quite the resume in basketball. Playing for California State Northridge, she was the first woman with a prosthetic leg to play Division I basketball. She thrived, making the all-Big West freshman team and eventually winning the Big West Women of the Year.
A volleyball player in high school, Holloway put her dreams on hold to compete in basketball, but resumed her volleyball career in 2006 at Northridge.
“The (United States) team came to train at my school, and my athletic trainer invited me to visit with the coach and the girls,” said Holloway. “Then they invited me to a training camp literally a week or two after I got done with my season, and decided to take a leap of faith. The rest was history.”
Holloway had played volleyball in high school, but the exposure to sitting volleyball changed everything. She took lessons she learned in her basketball career and applied it to becoming a Paralympian.
“I learned how to show up for your team, that hard work ethic,” she said. “I learned a lot about myself and how much I needed to respect myself to allow the little things to go away. It’s hard to kind of let things roll off your back at times, but I learned that.”
Holloway was second in scoring in the gold-medal game, posting 20 aces, trailing Erickson by one. The victory gave the United States a clean sweep in international women’s volleyball this season, with the Olympic indoor volleyball team, the April Ross and Alix Klineman beach volleyball duo, and then the sitting championship.
Even getting to Tokyo was an accomplishment for Holloway and the rest of the team. Two players tested positive for COVID just days before they were scheduled to leave for Japan. After the year-plus-long delay, and many hard days wondering if they’d play at all, the experience leading up to the games took a toll.
“Every game day is just very, very anxious,” she said. “Lots of uncertainty with the COVID situation. I’m just grateful we got to the gold-medal game in the first place. Especially after we lost to China in pool play. We had no idea what would happen. The fact we even got there, I’m just very grateful.”
Holloway’s sitting volleyball career spanned 15 years, and she’ll take another step in athletics as Stanford’s assistant director for name, image and likeness services, a role she’s looking forward to.
She isn’t sure what’s next for her in volleyball, but her passion not only for the sport, but for the Paralympics and pay equity for Paralympians remains a driving force.
For now, Holloway is resting after the trip back from Tokyo, and relishing in the gold medal. She’s more than earned it.
“I think we always knew we had the potential of getting here,” she said. “But to this degree, I don’t know if we would have ever imagined that because of the amount of resources. Had we not gotten those resources, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”