When basketball players everywhere feel a new sense of propulsion from their new Air Jordan 2009 sneakers, they'll know what U.S. amputee sprinter April Holmes has felt for years.
A former college track and field star, Holmes lost her left leg below the knee after a train accident in 2001. She has since become the world-record holder in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races while wearing a prosthetic leg. Holmes was the inspiration behind adding articulated propulsion technology (APT) into the new Jordans, which release nationwide in February. She is both the first and only female and first and only track and field athlete on Team Jordan.
But Holmes is more interested in discussing her other passion: inspiring physically and learning-disabled individualsyouth with disabilities to reach their goals.
"It's not about individual awards or medals," Holmes said. "[It's about] the fact that you can inspire people,"
Life has been a whirlwind for Holmes since winning gold in the 100-meter dash at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
Through her nonprofit organization-the April Holmes Foundation-and her various sponsorships and other commitments, Holmes has visited approximately 50 schools and spoken at countless community events since Beijing. At these engagements she promotes scholarships, education and job placement for those with a physical or learning disability.
"When you return to the U.S. with a gold medal, all of a sudden you have a whole lot of things to do," Holmes said.
As someone who admittedly cherishes her alone time, Holmes embraces her newfound influence and gladly will do what she can to help her cause. Currently she is involved with "five gazillion" different things for her foundation.
"I don't think it's died down yet," Holmes said. "[I'm] still running full speed ahead...to know that people are still inspired by you...and still want you to come to places is a good sign."
Before the loss of her leg, Holmes had been an All-American sprinter at Norfolk State University. After her accident her doctor told her about the Paralympics and she really began to consider it.
"It was more like learning a new skill," Holmes said. "Sure, you know, I had a foundation because I was running since I was a little kid, but now I had to learn so many other things to make the it work."
Holmes' new running career began in 2002, the same year the April Holmes Foundation was started and the year after her accident. Later that same year, Holmes broke the American record in the 200-meter dash at the IPC World Championships.
She eventually broke the 100- and 200-meter world records. Then she continued to best her own time in those events over the next several years, breaking her own world records and setting new ones. She added a world record in the 400-meter dash in 2006.
At the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, Holmes won the 100-meter dash but fell in the 200 meters. What really moved Holmes, however, was the response from the Chinese people.
"For them to be as supportive as they were was great," Holmes said.
"The Bird's Nest was filled to capacity every single day, which was awesome. I think it's uncommon for any sport to think that 91,000 people will want to show up and watch people do anything. I think that shows an amazing job by the International Paralympic Committee and International Olympic Committee to create awareness for the two events."
Holmes believes the Paralympic athletes in particular left a legacy in Beijing that transcends sport.
"I didn't actually know until I came back home that there were about 85,000 disabled people in China, and before they got the Olympic and Paralympic bid their country was not handicap very accessible," Holmes said. "But to know now that we have created an awareness for them to contribute to their own country-that was enormous."
After a one-month break from track, Holmes is back at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista working out and working with her foundation. She has her sights set on London 2012, but for now she is focusing on the short-term, day-to-day things, including her philanthropic activity.
"I do everything," Holmes said. "I'm not one of the people who just kind of delegates. I do whatever I have to do to make the foundation run or be more effective."
As of late, she is working on a celebrity fundraising weekend in Philadelphia for the end of April.
After the Olympics, Holmes met with the rest of Team Jordan on a two-day athlete summit at the brand's headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. While there, she was a recipient of the Black Cat Award honoring the Jordan brand's Athlete of the Year.
"The Paralympic [Movement] has grown drastically and every single day it continues to grow," Holmes said. "I think it speaks volumes to the Jordan brand's dedication to athletes. As opposed to seeing me as a woman or a Paralympic athlete, they saw me as an athlete."
Nike saw just how dominant of an athlete she was with her prosthesis and they put that technology into their shoes.
"I think a lot of people will be surprised with the feeling and the technology of the shoe," Holmes said. "And hopefully it will take the sport and the brand to another level and...make people more aware of athletes with physical disabilities or the Paralympic [Movement] in general."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial.