Tulsa’s Wilson Holloway Up for National Award

Camp Hill, Pennsylvania –– University of Tulsa football player Wilson Holloway is one of five nominees for the Uplifting Athletes Second Annual Rare Disease Champion Award.  The award is given to a leader in sports, individual or organization, who has realized his/her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.

Holloway, an offensive lineman, has battled cancer three times. Using his positive attitude, he hopes to return to the playing field in 2010. “I feel I’ve been able to make a difference by using the platform I’ve been given to raise awareness about cancer and to raise funds for research. I’ve also been able to use this platform to showcase what God has done in my life and how he has brought me through this tough time and how he will continue to bring me through,” said Holloway

The four other candidates are Ian Mitchell of Dickinson, Matt Szczur of Villanova, Penn State’s Tom Golarz, and Stanley Hunter of Clemson.

Voting began February 5th and ends February 27th.  The winner will be announced on Sunday, February 28th – Global Rare Disease Day.   To read each nominee’s personal story and VOTE – log onto our website: www.upliftingathletes.org/vote

He thought he was out of shape.  He was winded during spring workouts.  This coming from the kid who says he could run for days.  For 19-year-old Wilson Holloway, a Tulsa offensive tackle, he was disappointed that he was struggling so much at practice.

What he didn’t know is how his life was about to change. 

It was March 2008.  Holloway went to the doctor after his offensive line coach, Herb Hand, thought something wasn’t right.  And Herb was right.

Holloway had a softball sized tumor growing on his chest.  He was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.

“I was shocked.  I was 19. Cancer, you just never expect it could happen to you,” Holloway said.  “I didn’t know what it was, I just trusted the doctors.”

He began a treatment plan immediately that included chemotherapy.  Holloway never missed a beat.  He couldn’t participate in Tulsa’s spring football practices but he was determined to not miss the 2008 season.

“One of the first questions I asked the oncologist, ‘can I play football again?'”

The answer was yes and that’s all Holloway needed to hear.  He credits his strong support system for keeping him upbeat.  His parents live about a hour and half away.  His teammates would help with missed school work, some even shaved their heads as a way of paying tribute to Holloway. His coaches would visit, professors too.

The treatment worked and he was cancer-free.  He began playing again, seeing action in 6 games in the ’08 season, including the season opener just days after getting the positive news.

“I didn’t know if I had played my last football game or not,”  Holloway says.  “I’m glad it wasn’t.”

Holloway knew the importance of following up with doctor’s appointments.  He was also told he needed to watch for swollen lymph nodes, a possible sign the cancer had returned.  In October of 2008, he noticed a swollen node in his neck.  He thought he had strained his neck in workouts and went a week without telling his doctor. The node stayed swollen and the news wasn’t good: the cancer had, indeed, returned.

Holloway began a second round of aggressive treatment that included chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.  He even saw playing time in a game against UCF while undergoing that round of treatment.  Holloway worked tirelessly to get better, spending a week in isolation because of a weakened immune system.  Eventually, he was cleared to attend the C-USA Championship Game.  He could watch in person Tulsa take on East Carolina.

Through it all, Holloway stayed positive.

“I got tired of it, but I kept pushing,” Holloway said.  “I always have a smile on my
face.  That’s just who I am.”

His optimism would be challenged in March 2009.  Once again, the cancer had returned.  Radiation was added to the treatment regime.  And once again, after months of treatment, he was declared cancer-free.

“I had a PET scan recently and everything looks clear,” Holloway says.  

Holloway says his doctors are optimistic too, saying the cancer could be gone forever.  He jokes the third times the charm.  Holloway doesn’t mind being called a role model.  He gets letters and emails from fans who are battling cancer themselves.  He’s quick to offer support.

“I tell them to keep pushing.  It’s temporary and the grass is greener,” Holloway says.

Holloway is a redshirt sophomore and should have two more years of playing eligibility at Tulsa, maybe three.  He’s anxious to get back to work. Right now, he’s getting back into shape.  Before being diagnosed with cancer, he weighed 290.  He’s dropped to 240.  He knows this time around, it’s different.  He knows what’s at stake.  He knows football can be taken away at any time.  And for the past two years, it basically has been. But for Holloway, it’s about the future.  It’s about providing protection for his quarterback and creating holes for his running backs.  They’ve been so supportive of him and he can’t wait to return the favor.

Updated 02-08-2010

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