Rebuilding Lives

Tired of Hearing ‘No’

Ten heart attacks and a below-knee amputation have not stopped Brandon Holiday.

When Brandon Holiday was a boy, physicians told him and his family that he would never be able to play sports or walk comfortably due to health complications from systemic lupus erythematosus.

He has been proving them wrong ever since.

“I’ve played sports throughout my childhood,” he told O&P News. “I played tennis, baseball and trained in martial arts. I played in Division I tennis in college and was in U.S. Army ROTC, competing in Ranger challenges.”

Holiday, now 45 years old, would eventually lose his left leg below the knee from a blood-clotting condition called antiphospholipid syndrome. However, since then, he has won seven United States national titles and 14 medals in both martial arts and paracanoeing. In addition, as executive director of the Athletes with Disabilities Network (ADN) North East Chapter, Holiday works to not only improve himself through training, but also spread the lessons he has learned to others. He also hosts adaptive sports events throughout the Philadelphia-New Jersey region.

Early hurdles

Holiday experienced his first heart attack in college while training to compete in U.S. Army Ranger challenges. Although it was unclear whether the heart attack was related to SLE, what was evident was that he would never be able to fulfill his dream of joining the military. Instead, he became a police officer and joined the Salisbury Police Department in Maryland after graduating from college.

Sports represented a way for Brandon Holiday to reclaim his life after a below-the-knee amputation.
Sports represented a way for Brandon Holiday to reclaim his life after a below-the-knee amputation.

Source: Caroline Twohill

“I loved it,” Holiday said of his 5-year tenure with the force, during which time he served in patrol and special operations with Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS). “I joined the department so I could transfer to Florida, to do marine patrol. My major was environmental science. However, I loved the police work and the evidence collection. I excelled at it, so I stayed.”

Still, Holiday’s time as a police officer was wracked with health-related difficulties. More heart attacks followed. He experienced joint swelling, wounds on his legs, fatigue and fevers that regularly reached 105° — all complications from SLE.

While stopping a pair of suspects during an attempted rape, he ripped a muscle from his hip down to his knee. The injury led to multiple complications, including blood clots and the end of his career as a police officer.

“During that time, it was rough even before losing the leg,” Holiday said. “I dealt with depression. When I started experiencing blood clots, I was taken to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for treatment for about 4 months.”

In August 2006, after 4 months of blood clots, wound care and hyperbaric chamber treatments, Holiday’s doctors amputated his left leg below the knee. Rather than it being the end of his story, Holiday described the surgery as a kind of new beginning.

“In fact, when they amputated my leg, my first question when I woke up was, ‘Did you take it?’” he said. “I asked that because I couldn’t feel anything. Within a month, I was off all my pain medications. That was in August 2006. By September, I was being fitted for a prosthesis and by January 2007, I was playing 3.5, 4.0 in USTA tennis leagues at high levels in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.”

Recovery process

To Holiday, sports represented a way to reclaim his life. He became dedicated, almost to a fault. Although he managed to walk unassisted within a week of being fitting for his first prosthesis, his eagerness caused him to rip his suture line, even though his sutures had already been removed.

“I had to wait another month after that before I could put the leg back on,” he said. “It was all part of the transition period, learning what I had to do and how to get rid of certain sensations. However, there wasn’t anyone to reach out to. In my area, there wasn’t a group of below-knee amputees my age who were doing a big, adaptive sports program.”

Tennis represented Holiday’s first reintroduction to sports, but it was far from his last. From there, he resumed martial arts training, which he said provided him with a much-needed boost of confidence.

After 10 months of physical therapy and help from a Challenged Athletes Foundation grant, he attended the 2007 O&P Extremity Games to compete in rock climbing and martial arts, after meeting Ronald Mann, another below-knee amputee martial artist.

Competing in the event, Holiday said he realized the importance of mentors and that he no longer had to “go it alone.”

“I got to meet athletes just like me, at my age, who did martial arts and other sports,” he said. “It helped build confidence and instilled in me the importance of having mentors. I learned that there are people out there I can bring my questions to. I think that is when my healing process really began.”

He competed in his first hybrid martial arts tournament at the O&P Extremity Games and won a bronze medal.

In 2011, he competed in his first kayaking competition in the Extremity Games. The event ignited a love for the sport that has persisted to this day.

However, his newfound love of kayaking was put on hold when Holiday had a tenth heart attack in 2012. He was eventually able to work back to competing health, only to be hit by another setback.

“I worked with my doctors and was able to be cleared. Then soon after, I was in a car accident,” Holiday said. “I couldn’t lift my arms pass my shoulders, but I begged my doctors to let me go back to physical therapy and I eventually improved my range of motion. I was just tired of hearing ‘no’ from everyone.”

Since then, he has paddled his way to five gold medals at the USA Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships and became the 2014 and 2015 K1, Paracanoe men’s 200-m and 500-m United States Paracanoe Sprint kayak champion and the 2014 Master’s 35+ able bodied 500-m champion. He has competed in Germany as part of the U.S. Paracanoe national team and qualified for the 2016 Paralympic Games, but did not advance.

As his training continued, he has improved and most recently won the men’s paracanoe KL3 200-m and 500-m sprint championships at the 2017 USA Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships in Clermont, Florida.

“I’m still working hard to get to the 2020 Paralympic Games, though,” he said.

Mentoring the next generation

After the 2007 O&P Extremity Games, Holiday became a mentor with the Amputee Coalition and became active in organizing adaptive sports events for the ADN.

“When I was helping others, I was helping myself at the same time,” he said. “When I was looking for answers for other people, I was looking for answers for myself as well.”

Holiday began forming his own ADN chapter for the northeastern United States in 2012 and in 2016, the ADN North East Chapter became its own entity. Today, the group maintains a canoe-kayak club, a mentoring and outreach program, and a regional adaptive sports program. – by Jason Laday

Disclosure: Holiday reports no relevant financial disclosures.

When Brandon Holiday was a boy, physicians told him and his family that he would never be able to play sports or walk comfortably due to health complications from systemic lupus erythematosus.

He has been proving them wrong ever since.

“I’ve played sports throughout my childhood,” he told O&P News. “I played tennis, baseball and trained in martial arts. I played in Division I tennis in college and was in U.S. Army ROTC, competing in Ranger challenges.”

Holiday, now 45 years old, would eventually lose his left leg below the knee from a blood-clotting condition called antiphospholipid syndrome. However, since then, he has won seven United States national titles and 14 medals in both martial arts and paracanoeing. In addition, as executive director of the Athletes with Disabilities Network (ADN) North East Chapter, Holiday works to not only improve himself through training, but also spread the lessons he has learned to others. He also hosts adaptive sports events throughout the Philadelphia-New Jersey region.

Early hurdles

Holiday experienced his first heart attack in college while training to compete in U.S. Army Ranger challenges. Although it was unclear whether the heart attack was related to SLE, what was evident was that he would never be able to fulfill his dream of joining the military. Instead, he became a police officer and joined the Salisbury Police Department in Maryland after graduating from college.

Sports represented a way for Brandon Holiday to reclaim his life after a below-the-knee amputation.
Sports represented a way for Brandon Holiday to reclaim his life after a below-the-knee amputation.

Source: Caroline Twohill

“I loved it,” Holiday said of his 5-year tenure with the force, during which time he served in patrol and special operations with Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS). “I joined the department so I could transfer to Florida, to do marine patrol. My major was environmental science. However, I loved the police work and the evidence collection. I excelled at it, so I stayed.”

Still, Holiday’s time as a police officer was wracked with health-related difficulties. More heart attacks followed. He experienced joint swelling, wounds on his legs, fatigue and fevers that regularly reached 105° — all complications from SLE.

While stopping a pair of suspects during an attempted rape, he ripped a muscle from his hip down to his knee. The injury led to multiple complications, including blood clots and the end of his career as a police officer.

“During that time, it was rough even before losing the leg,” Holiday said. “I dealt with depression. When I started experiencing blood clots, I was taken to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for treatment for about 4 months.”

PAGE BREAK

In August 2006, after 4 months of blood clots, wound care and hyperbaric chamber treatments, Holiday’s doctors amputated his left leg below the knee. Rather than it being the end of his story, Holiday described the surgery as a kind of new beginning.

“In fact, when they amputated my leg, my first question when I woke up was, ‘Did you take it?’” he said. “I asked that because I couldn’t feel anything. Within a month, I was off all my pain medications. That was in August 2006. By September, I was being fitted for a prosthesis and by January 2007, I was playing 3.5, 4.0 in USTA tennis leagues at high levels in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.”

Recovery process

To Holiday, sports represented a way to reclaim his life. He became dedicated, almost to a fault. Although he managed to walk unassisted within a week of being fitting for his first prosthesis, his eagerness caused him to rip his suture line, even though his sutures had already been removed.

“I had to wait another month after that before I could put the leg back on,” he said. “It was all part of the transition period, learning what I had to do and how to get rid of certain sensations. However, there wasn’t anyone to reach out to. In my area, there wasn’t a group of below-knee amputees my age who were doing a big, adaptive sports program.”

Tennis represented Holiday’s first reintroduction to sports, but it was far from his last. From there, he resumed martial arts training, which he said provided him with a much-needed boost of confidence.

After 10 months of physical therapy and help from a Challenged Athletes Foundation grant, he attended the 2007 O&P Extremity Games to compete in rock climbing and martial arts, after meeting Ronald Mann, another below-knee amputee martial artist.

Competing in the event, Holiday said he realized the importance of mentors and that he no longer had to “go it alone.”

“I got to meet athletes just like me, at my age, who did martial arts and other sports,” he said. “It helped build confidence and instilled in me the importance of having mentors. I learned that there are people out there I can bring my questions to. I think that is when my healing process really began.”

He competed in his first hybrid martial arts tournament at the O&P Extremity Games and won a bronze medal.

In 2011, he competed in his first kayaking competition in the Extremity Games. The event ignited a love for the sport that has persisted to this day.

PAGE BREAK

However, his newfound love of kayaking was put on hold when Holiday had a tenth heart attack in 2012. He was eventually able to work back to competing health, only to be hit by another setback.

“I worked with my doctors and was able to be cleared. Then soon after, I was in a car accident,” Holiday said. “I couldn’t lift my arms pass my shoulders, but I begged my doctors to let me go back to physical therapy and I eventually improved my range of motion. I was just tired of hearing ‘no’ from everyone.”

Since then, he has paddled his way to five gold medals at the USA Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships and became the 2014 and 2015 K1, Paracanoe men’s 200-m and 500-m United States Paracanoe Sprint kayak champion and the 2014 Master’s 35+ able bodied 500-m champion. He has competed in Germany as part of the U.S. Paracanoe national team and qualified for the 2016 Paralympic Games, but did not advance.

As his training continued, he has improved and most recently won the men’s paracanoe KL3 200-m and 500-m sprint championships at the 2017 USA Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships in Clermont, Florida.

“I’m still working hard to get to the 2020 Paralympic Games, though,” he said.

Mentoring the next generation

After the 2007 O&P Extremity Games, Holiday became a mentor with the Amputee Coalition and became active in organizing adaptive sports events for the ADN.

“When I was helping others, I was helping myself at the same time,” he said. “When I was looking for answers for other people, I was looking for answers for myself as well.”

Holiday began forming his own ADN chapter for the northeastern United States in 2012 and in 2016, the ADN North East Chapter became its own entity. Today, the group maintains a canoe-kayak club, a mentoring and outreach program, and a regional adaptive sports program. – by Jason Laday

Disclosure: Holiday reports no relevant financial disclosures.