24: Healthy Holmes Eyes Strong Season

Sept. 13, 2010

Worth Watching: N. Holmes

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Friday, Aug. 13, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2010-11 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa cross country runner Nick Holmes spent the offseason in Iowa City, close to the training room, but miles away from his key source of inspiration.

Holmes, a junior, began his Hawkeye cross country career in impressive fashion, winning the 6,000-meter Hawkeye Invitational in 2008 by seven seconds over teammate and eventual NCAA national qualifier Jesse Luciano. Shortly afterward, iliotibial band syndrome surfaced in his left leg, also affecting his knee. Holmes was out of commission for nine months.

“That was the hardest nine months of my life,” Holmes said. “I couldn’t compete while all the guys around me were competing. I saw people accomplishing things in the Big Ten I thought I could have done. It was the trips back home that kept me going.”

Trips back home to Peoria, Ill., for Christmas, spring break and Jacob.

Jacob is Nick’s 27-year old brother, born with cerebral palsy and wheelchair-bound nearly his entire life.

“There are a lot of different reasons why I run and (Jacob) is definitely one of them,” Holmes said. “You see that he can’t even walk, so I’ve been given a gift to do something he can’t. I’m trying to make up for it and I use that as inspiration.”

Holmes established career-bests at all distances last fall, finishing runner-up in the 6,000-meter Hawkeye Invitational (18:30.56), ninth in the 8,000-meter Iowa State Intercollegiate (26:26) and 49th in the 10,000-meter NCAA Regional in Springfield, Mo. (32:28.2). He was 39th at the Big Ten Championships, covering the 5.2-mile course in 26:37.5.

“There was so much room to improve because I didn’t compete (much) my freshman year,” Holmes said. “It was basically trying to improve my high school times. The workouts I was doing really showed the improvement. I was able to run workouts I was never able to hit before; times I have never been close to. I think now it’s all going to come together in the races.”

Six University of Iowa student-athletes have won nine Big Ten Conference individual cross country championships. The last was Larry Wieczorek — the current head coach — in 1967.

Although injury-free since late December, 2009, Holmes still felt the need to stay in Iowa City during the offseason.

“Just in case I need the training room or a doctor if something goes wrong,” he said.

Holmes graduated from Limestone (Ill.) High School, where he was a state cross country champion and fifth in the 3,200-meter run in track and field. His college preference came down to the Hawkeyes and Illinois, but he signed with the UI and head coach Larry Wieczorek, also a native of the state of Illinois.

“I really love the campus here,” said Holmes, who is majoring in recreation management with a minor in human relations. “It’s small, yet it’s still that big-college atmosphere. Coach Wiz is also a huge reason I came here. He’s almost like a second father and I could tell that when I first met him.”

Wieczorek, who is entering his 24th season as UI head men’s cross country coach, was impressed with Holmes’ talent and versatility.

“I wouldn’t trade Nick for any runner in the country,” Wieczorek said. “Over time he’s going to develop into a Big Ten and All-American contender in any number of events. He can run any event from the mile to the 10,000 meters.”

Because of the injury, Holmes must gradually increase his training mileage total. While many teammates are logging 80-90 miles a week, Holmes tops out at 65.

“We’ll try to build up to around 75,” Holmes said. “It’s a little lower than a lot of the top guys on our team, but 75 for me is still a big improvement from what I’ve been used to.”

Holmes made significant contributions during the most recent track seasons, placing 18th in the Big Ten 3K (8:37.05) indoors and 14th in the Big Ten 10K (30:02.31) and 30th in the 5K (14:45.25) during the outdoor season. His season-best in the 5K was 14:33.73 and he ran 3:50.27 in the 1,500. As a team, the Hawkeyes finished fourth during the outdoor league championship (scoring 86 points) and fifth indoors (56).

“There was so much room to improve because I didn’t compete (much) my freshman year. It was basically trying to improve my high school times. The workouts I was doing really showed the improvement. I was able to run workouts I was never able to hit before; times I have never been close to. I think now it’s all going to come together in the races.”
UI junior Nick Holmes

“We need that momentum going into the cross country season,” Holmes said. “The No. 1 goal is to get to the national meet. I don’t think we’re talking about anything else. We want to perform well at Big Ten’s and we have to perform well throughout the year. It’s about coming in and being ready at the beginning of the season and at the end of the season we need to be there at the regional meet and get the job done and get to nationals. That’s the main team focus.”

Iowa made its fourth trip to the NCAA championships in five years in 2006, but has not returned as a team since. Luciano qualified as an individual in 2008, placing 43rd.

“We want to be one of the 31 teams at the NCAA championships every year,” added Wieczorek. “The guys realize they can get back there this year. Many of them are coming off good track seasons and I always think that a good track season prepares you for a good cross country season.”

The Hawkeyes placed sixth at the 2009 Big Ten Conference cross country championships and return three scorers: Holmes, senior Mark Battista and sophomore Jeff Thode. Junior James Paul also competed at the league championship.

“We have a core of about 10 guys and I think we’re really going to have a close team this cross country season,” Holmes said. “Everybody helps each other get through every workout.”

Holmes returned home for a weekend in mid-June to support his brother, who repeated as champion in the 25-meter wheelchair race at the Special Olympics. After his first victory, Jacob received a congratulatory note from Wieczorek.

“Wiz told my brother that I have a lot to live up to because I hadn’t won any gold medals yet like Jacob had,” said Holmes, sporting a proud smile.

With or without a sibling rivalry, Holmes remains focused and motivated because of Jacob’s inspiration.

“He’s one of those people in my life who keeps me going,” Holmes said.

Wieczorek is another.

“One of the things that all of us have to learn is perseverance. Perseverance is one of the things Nick had to learn and dealing with adversity (of the iliotibial band injury) and I think those are things that serve you well in life,” Wieczorek said. “Nick has built some momentum. He’s had a good year and enough success to get back to where he sees that he can be a top-notch runner.”