Sitting volleyball player Katie Holloway of the United States (5) competes against Iran in the recent Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (USA Volleyball)

Local athletes strike gold at the Paralympic Games

Snohomish County was well-represented at the Paralympic Games held Sept. 7-18 in Rio de Janeiro, and those local athletes were likewise well-rewarded.

In the final tally, the four competitors from Snohomish County won three medals, including two golds and one bronze.

Katie Holloway of Lake Stevens helped the United States win the gold medal in sitting volleyball. Desiree Miller of Monroe was on the winning U.S. team in wheelchair basketball. And McKenna Dahl of Lakewood, a shooter, won a bronze medal in prone air rifle.

Also competing in Rio de Janeiro was swimmer Haley Beranbaum of Snohomish, though she did not receive a medal.

All in all, it was a terrific showing by the county contingent, and the good feelings remain some three weeks after the Games.

Holloway had been to two previous Paralympics and both times won a silver medal.

“People would say to me, ‘Oh, you won silver, that’s such a huge accomplishment.’ But truly in your heart it didn’t feel like that at all,” Holloway said. “You go for one reason. You go (to win) gold and this time we did it. We won and it feels 10 times different.”

In the championship match, the Americans faced China, which had defeated the U.S. to win the gold medal in both 2008 and 2012. But this time Holloway and her teammates won convincingly, and when it was over “I just sobbed with my dad,” she said. “I couldn’t stop crying.”

“All the blood, sweat and tears, and all the sacrifices (over the years), it was all worth it,” said Holloway, a 2004 graduate of Lake Stevens High School.

Later, on the medals podium, “I just kept taking really deep breaths to soak in every single second of it. It’s hard to put into words such a fulfilling moment. It was just complete happiness. … And I’m still riding the high. It still feels just as great as it did two or three weeks ago.”

For Miller, this was her second trip to the Paralympics, which are held every four years in the weeks after the Olympic Games, and in the same host city and at the same venues. In London four years ago, the U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team finished a disappointing fourth.

“We came away (from London) with a bitter taste in our mouths, we really did,” said Miller, a 2005 Monroe High School graduate. “And that spurned us in how we trained and how we wanted (to develop) team cohesiveness, which we built over the past few years.”

Winning a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro “obviously was the goal and it was amazing.” Representing the United States as a Paralympian “was always going to mean something,” she added, “but to have a gold medal was the cherry on the top.”

The realization of her accomplishment kicked in during a timeout with about 90 seconds to play.

“I looked up at the scoreboard,” Miller said, “and I saw that we were up by quite a bit. I started getting teary-eyed. I couldn’t look at anybody in the huddle. I had to tell myself, ‘Get it together, you have to finish (the game).’

“Then when the buzzer sounded, I broke into tears. I couldn’t even see where I was on the court. I was just so happy.”

For Dahl, the Paralympic experience “was absolutely amazing. Brazil did a fantastic job of putting on a beautiful Games,” she said. “The (athletes) village was really nice, the food was good and I just had a great time.

“I just felt so proud to be able to bring home a medal for the U.S.,” she added. “And then to see the flag raised (during the medal ceremony) was just phenomenal. I was really happy that I could go down there and do what I did.”

The Paralympic and Olympic athletes were invited to the White House on Sept. 29 to meet President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama, and it was, Holloway said, a “breathtaking” event. There was a receiving line, and after shaking hands with the president Holloway moved on to meet Michelle Obama.

“She said, ‘Here give me a hug. Another tall girl like me,’” said the 6-foot-3 Holloway, recalling her conversation with Michelle Obama, who is 5-11. “It was so amazing. (The president and his wife) were so wonderful and so nice.”

Miller had met President Obama in a White House visit after the 2012 Paralympics. Shaking his hand this time, the words that popped out were: “Nice to see you again.”

Coincidentally, Holloway and Dahl were both back in Snohomish County last weekend. Holloway spent Friday at Cavalero Mid High School in Lake Stevens, where her father is a special education teacher. She spoke to a few classes of students, signed autographs and posed for pictures.

Dahl, meanwhile, was the grand marshal in the homecoming parade at Lakewood High School, where she graduated in 2014. “I got to wave to a lot of my old teachers,” she said.

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