Cross-country’s Holmes looks to finish strong at Iowa

BY BEN ROSS | SEPTEMBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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Nick Holmes’ list of running results at Iowa looks more like an injury report than a stat sheet.

He has been held out of competition extensively each of his seasons at Iowa. Whether it be a stress fracture, a hip injury, tendinitis, iliotibial band syndrome, or shin problems, Holmes has experienced all the negatives of running during his tenure, but none of the positives.

But Holmes is now working on his comeback.

The Peoria, Ill.-native stayed in Iowa City this past summer so he could get himself prepared for the cross-country season. His agenda over the break included taking classes at Kirkwood, doing rehab exercises, and running sparingly.

“I didn’t run much,” the junior said. “I had to go through eight weeks of no physical activity. After that, I only ran twice a week for a few weeks. I was able to rehab, use the training facility, ice, and see trainer Terry Noonan … I loved his attitude of, ‘If you don’t want to get better, then I don’t want you here.’ ”
Holmes met with Noonan, the Hawkeyes’ director of athletics training services, every day over the summer. Noonan has been an athletics trainer for more than 30 years and has seen all types of sports injuries. His expertise lies primarily with football and football-related health problems, but he said no sport has any more injuries than the next.

“You stand a 50-50 chance of getting hurt no matter what you do, and around 10 percent of those injuries are serious,” he said. “[Holmes’] case just seemed like one injury after another. There were times when he got frustrated, but he stayed positive and started to see that light at the end of the tunnel.”

Getting to that point involved long sessions of exercises in a swimming pool, deep muscle treatments, and a special soft-tissue massage called Active Release Technique.

Head cross-country coach Larry Wieczorek, who recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, said he feels bad for his runner but believes it’s just a part of Holmes’ and the rest of the team’s aggressive nature.

“It’s been a combination of bad luck and other things for Nick,” he said. “It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly the injuries are. These are good athletes. They want to go their very hardest and finish up every race strong.”

And while running has caused problems for Holmes, Wieczorek said, the activity will likely pay off in the long run.

“I’ve been running all my life; I’m much healthier [than someone who hasn’t],” the longtime Iowa coach said. “They thought I was dead on the operating table because my pulse was so low. Running has been a fountain of youth for me.”

Another factor that has helped Holmes in his rehab process is the arrival of a new Alter-G Machine. The equipment is essentially a treadmill that lets an athlete run at a percentage of her or his body weight, making the runner feel lighter so the knees, ankles, and other lower body parts don’t take the beating they normally would from traditional running.

That machine may have rejuvenated Holmes’ running career; he said it had the greatest effect on his rehab process of anything he did.

“The Alter-G has been huge as of late,” the 21-year-old said. “We got it in the midsummer, and I used it four or five weeks before the season started. When I run on it, I can’t feel the stress, the pounding on the shins. It has helped enormously.”

And what a help it has been.

In his first cross-country meet since 2009, Holmes placed third overall in the Iowa Open on Sept. 2. While Holmes said he isn’t back to full strength, this may be the best he has felt since becoming a Hawkeye.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “Not close to 100 percent health, but this is the best I have felt in a long time. I’m running with minor aches and pains, but feel pretty positive.

“I really appreciate what Coach Wiz has done for me; not many other Division-I coaches would still keep me around after all I have been through. I just let my faith keep me going, and if it’s meant to be, then it’s meant to be.”

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