VOICE OF A CHAMPION:
APRIL HOLMES​

AprilHolmes_Headshot@2x

April Holmes achieved outstanding success as a sprinter and long jumper, rebounding from losing her left leg in a 2001 train accident to compete in four Paralympics, winning three medals, and breaking over a dozen Paralympic world records along the way.

Now an author, motivational speaker, and U.S. Center for SafeSport board member, April shares her experiences in sport, and her views on safer sport.

safesport interview

TELL US WHAT MOTIVATED YOUR JOURNEY AS A PARALYMPIC ATHLETE.

Holmes: Athletics was something I loved and excelled at from an early age. I earned a college scholarship for track, then worked for a few years before pursuing a master’s degree. Two weeks into my master’s program, I got into an accident and lost my leg. I was initially devastated—you need your leg to be athletic, so I thought.

I didn’t know anything about the Paralympics until my doctor came in one day and gave me some magazines about it. I thought, “OK, this looks like hope to me. I can still do athletics. I can still be physically active. I can still do the things I love to do.”

So I set some goals and dreams: to represent the United States in the next Paralympic Games. That was my focus every single day during rehab, to stand on the podium as the best in the world. It made rehab very fun.

 

WHAT DOES RUNNING ON A PROSTHETIC LEG FEEL LIKE?

Holmes: It felt so weird at first, like I was running on eyeliner pencil, like it would not hold me at all. Running on it was like… “Left leg hits the ground, I’m scared. Right leg hits the ground, I’m comfortable…” Once I began to trust that my leg was there, was going to be there, would brace me every time I stepped on it—the faster and faster I was able to run.”

 

HOW DO YOU WORK WITH ATHLETES WHO HAVE FACED PHYSICAL OR MENTAL ADVERSITY?

Holmes: I believe it’s our responsibility to share our life and experience with others. Muhammad Ali said, “Service to others is the rent we pay for our time here on earth.” That is part of my DNA.

When someone shares experiences with you—and they’ve overcome something and achieved—it makes your journey that much easier. I feel it’s my role to be an example of someone who has faced adversity, come out on the other side, and blazed a trail.

For me, it was going from laying on the train tracks, to a hospital bed, to a podium. While many people can’t identify with being trapped underneath a train, they can identify with having “train instances” in their life, when something stopped them from going where they wanted to go.

One thing I talk about is: “What is your train right now?” What do you have to do in your mind, your body, your spirit to allow that train to move? Once you get up, ask: “What are your goals, dreams, and desires?”

Then it’s helpful to trust. As I’m running down the track, I’m trying to go as fast as I can, but I can only go so fast until I learn how to trust.

I believe it's our responsibility to share our life and experience with others. Muhammad Ali said, “Service to others is the rent we pay for our time here on earth.” That is part of my DNA.

april holmes

HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE ATHLETES WITH DISABILITIES COMMUNITY EVOLVE?

Holmes: In 2001, when I lost my leg, I’d never even heard about the Paralympics. But in 2021, NBC showed a significant amount of the Tokyo Paralympic Games on television. With parents around the world looking to showcase the greatness of their kids and provide hope for them—especially ones that love sports—that helps word of Paralympic sport to get out, and of how remarkable those athletes are.

Does it have a ways to go? Sure. But there are so many people in the fight, in the trenches, that believe. It’s only a matter of time before the Paralympics come out of its shell and fly like a beautiful butterfly.

 

WHAT’S YOUR VIEW ON THE RISK OF ABUSE FOR ATHLETES WITH DISABILITIES,
AND ON WHAT WE ALL SHOULD KNOW?

Holmes: Those who want to be abusive prey on those who are vulnerable. But there’s so much education now about Paralympic athletes. They’re not being isolated in a room or on a track by themselves. They’re now surrounded by community. And the more you’re trained to understand what abuse looks like, the better able you are to recognize it and take action when it occurs.

If SafeSport continues to push out education [like the Center’s course related to athletes with disabilities available at SafeSportTrained.org]—the more it reaches dark corners, athletes wind up better equipped to handle it.

 

WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUNG ATHLETES AND THEIR ALLIES TO KNOW ABOUT THE U.S. CENTER FOR SAFESPORT?

Holmes: You don’t have to feel uncomfortable, and you have a country that’s cheering for you. You don’t have to be abused. You deserve happiness. You deserve joy. No one deserves to be bullied. No one deserves to be inappropriately touched or have their character demeaned. You don’t deserve any bad treatment that comes your way.

Know that there’s an entire support system of people, willing and wanting to help and listen to what you’re going through. Whether it’s Team USA or a local peewee-league team, you’re surrounded by people who desire to help you and see you smile and have an opportunity in life. That should not be cut short by anyone. The momentum is shifting toward every sporting opportunity being a safe place for young people.