February 2019 - ATHLETE PROFILE
By Kristen Hislop
Family: Daughter, Kinsley (5); Parents, Jack and Lynn; Brother, Jon (Kathy)
Occupation: Physical Education teacher at Acadia Middle School and Shenendehowa Girls Varsity Soccer head coach
Sports: Soccer, Bobsledding, Triathlon, Running, Skiing
Favorite quote: “A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on its own wings. Always believe in yourself” – Unknown
Hi Kristen... Congrats on all your athletes at the Ironman! Just incredible!! You are going to think I’m crazy but I’m contemplating signing up for 2018. Is one year long enough to train if I have never done a triathlon? I have had it on my bucket list for a few years now and it keeps nagging at me... in a great way of course. Just would love to chat with you about it and tap into your experience and expertise.
When I received this note, I was excited! I knew she could do it and I knew the swim was the tipping point. Who is she? A Plattsburgh High School Athletic Hall of Fame member, recipient of the Dorothy Arnsdorff (Physical Education) Award at SUNY Cortland, two-time first team soccer player at Cortland, recipient of the Civilian Service Commendation by the Saratoga Springs Police Dept. (for going into a burning apartment building and saving lives), 2010 Large School Section 2 Coach of the Year – and a bobsled driver. Could Holli Mulholland complete Ironman Lake Placid? Without a doubt!
The journey to an Ironman starts in your youth. Holli spent hours with a soccer ball at her feet, a basketball in her hands, and playing pickup hockey games with friends in her Plattsburgh neighborhood. By seventh grade she added running track and playing tennis to her repertoire. It isn’t surprising that she and her brother loved sports and the outdoors. Weekends were spent hiking, paddling and exploring the Adirondacks with her parents, Jack and Lynn. The parents set expectations for their kids and not what you might expect from her Dad, a 1972 bobsled Olympian and Mom, the first woman in America to get a license to drive a bobsled. They expected Jon, a year older, and Holli to excel at academics, play an instrument and be active.
As those college decisions loomed, Holli says, “I knew I wanted to enter the exercise science/sports career field, I just wasn’t sure in what capacity. I knew if I didn’t stay involved in sport it would be an incredibly huge void.” She headed to Cortland for a double major in Physical Education and Sports Medicine, and then University of Northern Colorado for a masters in Kinesiology, with a concentration in outdoor education. Holli managed a double major while playing soccer for all four years of college. She thought she could dabble with hockey too, until her soccer coach found out!
Shenendehowa teacher, Sandy Morley, was the one who convinced student teacher Holli that with many options open to her, teaching PE and coaching was the route she should take. What a win for Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park. Sandy says, “Holli had a natural ability to care for children, a sense of humor, and great organization skills.” Holli teaches PE at Shenendehowa’s Acadia Middle School and is head coach of the very successful girls varsity soccer team. Reagan Sames, a senior headed to play soccer at LeMoyne College says, “Coach Holli is one the most dedicated people I know. As a coach, what made me love her so much is that she’s always able to bring out the best in people, and help them rise to the occasion.”
Coaching young women in a sport you love makes every day fun. As the playing field for women has changed, Holli notes, “It’s nice to see the focus and emphasis shift to female athletes training and embracing the strength and conditioning piece at the high school level.” In addition, there is greater focus on the total student-athlete versus a single sport.
While Holli loves coaching soccer and her girls, she has also thought about bringing bobsledding to Clifton Park. Why you ask? Well, Holli’s bobsled career started at 21. “I was hooked from my very first ride as brakeman. I spent one season riding brakes and then begged my Dad to teach me how to drive, which took my passion and love of the sport to a whole new level. He taught me everything, from sled maintenance to preparing my runners. I spent a couple of years getting in as many runs at the Lake Placid track as I could, while hiring a personal trainer to increase my power and speed. I was fortunate to get most of my training runs in with the U.S. Women’s Bobsled Team and learn from some of the best athletes and coaches. I did several local races and America’s Cup, but never had the explosive power to reach the national level and compete for the U.S.” Her sled sits in the garage ready for her daughter, Kinsley, to become a third-generation bobsledder.
I knew she could do IMLP but now I just had to convince her, which turned out to be pretty easy. Holli says, “After 10 years of making excuses and letting fear control my decision to complete an Ironman, I was ready. The swim was a huge hurdle for me, it was my exclusive reason for all my excuses, and controlled all my fear around a triathlon. I decided that I was going to meet with you and discuss if this was truly an attainable goal. From then on, I turned my excuses into goals and fears into challenges that I needed to overcome.”
The first swim scared Holli. Breathing is hard, seriously frustrating and open water is scary, even for someone who can complete 12 marathons and race Boston! Twelve months of swimming, biking and running teach you a lot. “This journey of training and completing an Ironman had a profound impact. It taught me to not let my potential sit idle in the wings of fear, that very little growth happens in your comfort zone, and that the mind is one powerful tool and it’s important to be careful how we use it. There are amazing people in this world that want to see others be successful, and while this was a very lofty goal for me, that I am the best version of myself when I am chasing my dreams,” says Holli.
In an endurance event, race day is a small piece. It’s a journey that culminates in a very long day – you will laugh, sing, cry, scream, want to quit, burst with joy, and curse multiple times. It was no different for Holli. That morning she arrived at the Olympic Oval in tears. The swim still terrified her and just 20 minutes into the 2.4-mile endeavor, after being kicked and hit, she almost quit. She fought through, decided to just have fun, and as I tell all my first-timers, “smile at the finish line.” She achieved that goal. “The bike and run were challenging but I met a ton of amazing people on the course, from spectators to competitors and the volunteers.”
The mental side derails many athletes. Likely due to their own experience, her parents knew that sports are not easy. In the Mulholland household, any activity was encouraged, but as Holli remembers, “the rules were always the same. Whatever you started you had to finish. If there was a teacher, coach or instructor you didn’t like or any issue, the mentality was to deal with it, and see your responsibility to the end. Then, we were allowed to choose to do it again or not. This mentality taught me commitment, perseverance, balance, and dealing with adversity.”
My son Alex and I were in the oval as Holli came around the corner towards the Ironman finish line. I’ll never forget the raw joy as she ran to us (www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7BCmPTouv8).
Today, her five-year-old daughter Kinsley loves cooking and wants to be a vet. She plays hockey, swooshes down the ski slopes, and excels in school. She likely won’t appreciate what an incredible force her mother is until she’s older, but when she reads Holli’s words below, she will nod and smile.
“We all need to challenge ourselves because as nice as it is to be in our comfort zones, no growth or change happens there. The more we challenge ourselves, the more we’re able to grow, and evolve into the most authentic version of ourselves. The more we prove that we can do hard things and show up in the face of challenges and fear, the more our self-confidence grows. We all want others to believe in us, but belief has to come from within first. Fear is a very powerful emotion, and can be paralyzing at times, and often the greatest fear is that of failure. That’s the great thing about life, failure doesn’t define us; we are defined by the moments that we try again, keep moving forward, face every challenge and rise up.” Now, go find that challenge and rise!
Kristen Hislop (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Clifton Park is a certified multisport coach who wants everyone to ‘Do, Believe and Achieve.’