RALEIGH (July 26, 2001) -- It’s rare that an athlete excels at more than one sport. Even more rare that they excel in four.
Johnny Holland, a part-time ticket seller at the Entertainment and Sports Arena, did just that at the 2001 National Veterans’ Wheelchair Games in New York. Holland won gold medals in weight lifting, bowling, table tennis and billiards.
The Games took place between June 29 and July 6 at various venues including Central Park, Chelsea Pier and Roosevelt Island. Though he was in one of the United States’ hottest spots for the Fourth of July, Holland did not venture out for the festivities.
“Actually, I was playing rugby,” said Holland. “I missed all of the fireworks.”
Holland lost use of his legs following a May 1, 1987 automobile accident while stationed at Fort Wainright, Alaska. The car he and his friend were riding in flipped three times and Holland’s neck was broken in four places.
“That was May 1st,” said Holland. “I woke up in Tacoma, Wash. May 10th.”
Considering the severity of his accident, Holland bounced back quickly and competed in his first Wheelchair Games in 1989. Since then he has competed in 12 Games and totaled 44 medals, 36 of them gold.
“The most exciting was the first year I went and we won in rugby,” said Holland. “It was a tie game and there were about 18 seconds left. We had the ball. I had played the whole game and I was dog-tired. We were on one end of the court and I was all alone - I had sneaked away. All the guy had to do was throw the ball behind him, but he threw it down-court and I caught it and gained control of it right before I hit the cone to be out of bounds and scored. That was exciting.”
Holland’s toughest battle of the 2001 Games came in the billiards tournament.
“We shot 9-ball,” said Holland. “This guy was good. He can make the nine off the break. Well, I said I’d let him break and everybody was like, ‘No, no, no, no, you’re crazy!’ But, what are the chances he’ll make the 9-ball on the break every time? He missed and I won that game and he won the second game. In the third game, we were playing defense because one mistake can cost you the game. Well, I scratched and that put a combination on the 9-ball - a two-nine combination in the corner. It was an easy shot but he missed. He left me the same shot and I missed but I made the 2-ball and took it from there. I won bragging rights. He said he’d be ready next year.”
But, Holland isn’t waiting until the 2002 Games to compete. In fact, he is already back at it.
“This past weekend I was down in Atlanta,” said Holland. “I was invited to play rugby in the Georgia Games. We won the bronze. It was a team where I didn’t know anybody so the chemistry wasn’t there. We had some close games but couldn’t pull it out.
“The first time they called me, it was after I’d gotten back from (the National Games in) Puerto Rico. We won the gold that year. They called again this year and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come down and play,’ and we won the bronze. I had a lot of fun and that’s the important part of it. I would have loved to have won the gold, but you can’t win all of the time.”
Carolina Hurricanes Website Reporter Kyle S. Hanlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.