‘Just give me the ball’

Lake Stevens’ Holloway has prosthetic leg, but her talent is what’s unusual

By Aaron Coe

Herald Writer

LAKE STEVENS — She hobbled up to her coach and calmly told him she had broken her leg.

Again.

The coach was horrified, but to Katie Holloway it was just a minor annoyance.

She would not be able to practice again until she could be fitted for another one. And these days, legs go for about $8,500 and take a while to break in.

The coach was relieved to find out that it was not bone, but carbon fiber that had given way.

Katie Holloway dreams of playing college basketball.

[Click photo to enlarge]

OK, this is not your typical leg. Holloway wears a prosthesis.

There was no surgery or lengthy recovery time — she has been through all that many times.

Three days later, with her eighth new leg — four were broken during sports practices — in place, she was back on the court.

Her leg is not typical, and neither is her ability.

Holloway is a 6-foot-3 center for the Lake Stevens basketball team. She is seeing significant playing time as a sophomore in a sport dominated by juniors and seniors.

Though her life has not always been easy, her opponents are quickly learning not to feel sorry for her. Their sympathy quickly dissipates when Holloway bumps them out of the way and pulls down rebounds.

That’s what Holloway wants.

"Just give me the ball and let me play," said the 15-year-old.

The Decison

Only one thing seemed different about Jeff and Jane Holloway’s second daughter when she was born:

She was big. Ten pounds big.

When Katie began walking at around 10 months, the couple noticed her right leg was turning outward.

Initially, doctors told the Holloways that it was normal given their daughter’s large stature. But the problem persisted, and X-rays at Children’s Hospital later revealed that Katie had been born without a fibula bone in her right leg.

The parents were given three choices, none of which any parent would want to hear.

They could brace the leg, but Katie would clearly be disabled for the rest of her life.

They could insert bones in the leg, but surgery — and lengthy recovery — would be required once a year to keep up with the child’s growth.

Or, the lower part of the leg could be amputated.

Katie Holloway (left) runs the floor Friday during Lake Stevens’ basketball practice.

[Click photo to enlarge]

Amputated.

"I could not even say the word amputate," Jane Holloway recalled. "It was devastating. I just wanted to take her and run away with her."

She admits that she hated the doctors at Children’s (though she now says they’re great) and that she could not face reality.

They sought a second opinion from a doctor in California, but the same choices remained.

Jeff Holloway, who is a special education teacher at Everett High School, was equally crushed, but more pragmatic. He knew his daughter’s best chance at a normal life would come with wearing a prosthesis.

"We just kept saying, ‘We’re doing this for her, We’re doing this for her," he said.

After a while, Jane Holloway knew her husband was right.

When their daughter was 18 months old, the decision was made. The leg was amputated just above the ankle.

"They definitely made the right decision," said Katie Holloway, who would likely not be able to play at her current level had her parents chosen one of the other options.

Her parents believe their decision was correct, but say they are relieved there have been no medical advances that might have made them regret the most difficult of choices.

Growing Up

The healing for the parents began the day their 18-month-old daughter began walking around just moments after her first prosthesis was attached.

Yes, there have been dark times.

Sometimes classmates said hateful things because they were afraid or didn’t understand.

She’s had six surgeries, most of which were a result of the lower portion of the leg growing outward and causing severe pain.

In between visits to doctors, Holloway has always found solace in athletics. She began playing basketball at age 5. She played softball for many years, and played varsity volleyball at Lake Stevens in the fall.

Early in childhood, some schoolmates were surprised but not cruel.

"When she was a little girl they used to say, ‘Oh, what happened to your leg," Jane Holloway said. "’Oh, I have an artificial leg.’ They’d say, ‘Oh, OK, let’s go play.’"

The most difficult times came in the kid-eat-kid world of junior high.

"It was very, very hard for her," Jane Holloway said. "She got depressed."

A couple of things happened that kept her going when she thought about quitting.

A newspaper column was written about her, and she got a call from her hero, Mike Edwards.

Knowing that someone else was in her situation was an inspiration, she said.

Edwards played at Notre Dame during the 1998-99 season. Holloway has always worn his jersey number, when possible. (The No. 12 jersey was not available to her at Lake Stevens.)

Holloway wrote Edwards a few letters, and got a call from him late one night about two years ago.

They talked for an hour, and the conversation gave her hope and confidence.

Like Holloway, Edwards wears a prosthesis. In high school, he transferred to a different school and hid his disability from coaches and teammates. They suspected, but he covered it up with long socks and sweats.

They found out one day when he put the leg on with the foot backwards on the team bus.

Unlike Holloway, he had to decide himself to have his leg amputated. When Edwards was 13, he realized that he would not be able to compete at a high level with his deformed leg.

"He has more guts than I have," Holloway said. "I would never know what to do. I’m just so thankful that (her parents) made the decision for me."

On the Court

There is no missing Holloway when she takes the floor during a Lake Stevens game. She’s almost always the tallest player when she checks in, usually in the middle of the first quarter.

A casual observer might not notice anything different about her other than her size.

She wears long socks, and wraps the connection with an ace bandage. She runs with a slight limp, but not enough to give anything away.

"She plays so naturally that most people don’t even recognize it," Lake Stevens starting center Alicia Steinruck said. "I remember a guy at school saying, ‘What? She has a fake leg? I just thought she had a bad knee.’"

Her parents used to tell coaches about the prosthesis, but in recent years have let people figure it out for themselves. It often takes a while.

Katie Holloway had hoped to make the varsity team as a freshman, so she could play with her sister, Chelsea. Chelsea Holloway, also a 6-foot-3 center, is currently recovering from knee surgery and expects to begin playing with her teammates at Highline Community College in January.

Katie Holloway wasn’t able to play with her sister, but she did manage to lead the freshman team in scoring, averaging 20 points per game.

Since then, she’s grown three inches and gotten even better.

"She has made phenomenal improvement in the last year," Lake Stevens coach Steve Berg said. "She’s been a force in some of our games. She plays as if she has no limitations. She’s a very upbeat, very happy girl."

Holloway posted two double-doubles (at least 10 points and 10 rebounds) in Lake Stevens’ first five games despite playing less than half of the games.

Chelsea Holloway said her sister’s height is not her only asset on the basketball court. She knows the game extremely well, she says, and has great court sense.

She often pokes fun at her sister, because Katie Holloway seems to know everything. Chelsea refers to her A-student sister is an encyclopedia.

"She gets mad when I say she knows everything," said Chelsea Holloway, who had a 3.8 grade point average at Lake Stevens. "But she’s always coming up with these facts out of nowhere, and I’m always asking, ‘Where did you come up with that?’"

The Dream

Katie Holloway hopes to follow the footsteps of Edwards and play college basketball.

She knows it will take hard work, but that’s pretty much all she’s ever known.

She is more than just a bruising rebounder. Her long arms and instincts make her a fine defender.

She also possesses a solid 3-point shot. When you’re a high school or select basketball coach with a 6-foot-3 center, however, you’re going to park her under the basket to do the dirty work.

She’s about as competitive as they come.

"She doesn’t like to lose, whether it’s Parcheesi or basketball," her father said.

Katie Holloway plans to do everything she can to prove herself to college coaches. She’ll play year-round select ball. She’ll send them tapes. And like Edwards did, she’ll harass them until someone gives her a chance.

"I remember telling her for years, ‘You’re going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else to get what you want," Jane Holloway said.

Katie Holloway is prepared to do that.

Even if she has to break a few more legs along the way.

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