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On Track for Greatness: How Gators, UF Health Paved the Way for Grant Holloway

Grant Holloway

From one angle, the silver medal shimmers and reflects the brightness of Grant Holloway’s track and field career. Turned another way, without the shine, it reminds him of a void that can only be filled by one specific victory.

There are two sides to the medal Grant earned as a member of Team USA at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the world stage debut for the 26-year-old former Gator. After years of waiting, it’s all about “redemption” and his hunger to prove he’s the best hurdler alive.

“The world stage is set. It’s up to me just to get a spot at the dinner table,” said Grant, who can qualify for Paris at the U.S. trials that begin June 21. “I’m looking forward to it. Gold is at the top of my list, but in between then, the preparation, you got to get to that big dance healthy and happy. For the big stage, you got to have a big moment, and I think I’m ready for that big moment.”

Three years ago, “the Flamingo” was living up to his billing as the favorite and famed fast starter in the 110-meter hurdles. He looked well on his way to winning gold, even leading the field after the 10th and final hurdle. However, Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment surged in the closing stretch to pull off a shocking upset in Tokyo.

Grant hasn’t lost a major race since. He’s traveled the world, claiming pieces of hardware and history while showing his versatility as a hurdler.

In outdoor races — like those in Paris this summer — he became only the second man to win three straight world outdoor championships in the 110-meter hurdles, adding to his first international championship in Doha (2019) by winning in Oregon (2022) and then Budapest (2023). The most recent victory came with a taste of revenge, beating Parchment by an impressive 0.11 of a second.

Grant has been even more untouchable indoors. He’s captured two world indoor championships in the 60-meter hurdles, the most recent coming in Glasgow this past March. Grant’s time of 7.29 in Glasgow was his fourth time posting a sub-7.30 time. No one else in history has done that once. In fact, Grant hasn’t lost an indoor hurdles race since 2014 when he was a high school sophomore in Virginia, a remarkable streak of 60-plus races.

“I've always felt like he could be one of the best, if not the best, on the planet,” said University of Florida track and field head coach Mike Holloway (no relation). “And right now, he's that guy.”

Grant Holloway at UF’s James G. Pressly Stadium
Grant Holloway at UF’s James G. Pressly Stadium. (Photo by Nate Guidry)

However, that high school athlete destined for greatness would have gone in a totally different direction if Holloway weren’t there at the crossroads of his career trying to steer him to UF.

Read more Amazing Athlete stories.

Two-track mind

Grant didn’t have much time left to make the choice of a lifetime.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound prospect out of Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, Virginia, had plans to be a two-sport college athlete. He had a desire to play football and was committed to play wide receiver for one of UF’s main rivals until he picked up the phone deep into the recruitment process.

“I was originally committed to the University of Georgia, decommitted probably with a week left in the commitment process, called coach Holloway here saying, ‘Hey, I want to be a Gator,’” said Grant, who rushed to sign the paperwork and send it back by the cutoff day. “That was probably, honestly, one of the best days of my life. Now, I’ve done it all in this timeline, but I think when I signed my life here to the University of Florida … that was the birth of Grant Holloway.”

To say Grant was in good hands with his new coach at UF would be an understatement. There’s no one more capable of developing elite track athletes than Holloway. The Gator men’s and women’s track and field head coach just finished his 29th season at UF, which resulted in a third straight national championship for the men on June 8. In nearly three decades, he’s led UF track to 14 national championships — 12 for the men and two for the women.

For Holloway, who’s coached an Olympian every year since 1992, Grant’s potential was clear. He was getting the athlete he considered the best hurdler in the country at that time. Even better was when he learned he’d be getting his undivided attention.

“He signed with track, and we thought football was going to take him on, but I got a call from him that spring saying, ‘I don’t want to play football anymore,’” Holloway said. “We had a good talk about it, and I told him he needed to have a talk with his parents. That was a very magical time for us because now we see what it led to.”

Most importantly, it produced a bond with someone Grant says took on a father-figure role when he moved away from home to join UF in 2017. Holloway remains his coach today and will be with him at qualifying in June, and if all goes well, Paris.

UF track and field coach Mike Holloway talking with Grant Holloway at James G. Pressly Stadium.
UF track and field head coach Mike Holloway talking with Grant Holloway at James G. Pressly Stadium. (Photo by Betsy Brzezinski)

Of course, Grant’s decision to join the Gators also resulted in eight individual national championships, earning the Bowerman Award in 2019 and capturing a slew of accolades. But before he could dominate the collegiate ranks and leap past the world’s best, Grant needed to clear a different kind of obstacle.

Bouncing back with a breakthrough treatment

Grant’s career with the Gators got off to the same blazing start that’s become his calling card in races, being named 2017 SEC Indoor and Outdoor Freshman Runner of the Year. However, as he neared the finish line of that impressive season, something had managed to catch up with him.

Grant was experiencing pain in one of his knees that had worsened to a point where he needed medication to race with it. The setback led him to Kevin Farmer, UF Health orthopaedic surgeon and chief of sports medicine. He was told he had two issues with his knee cartilage that needed attention and one of them required surgery.

With it already well into the summer, it would be difficult for Grant to be 100% recovered by the time track and field season was set to start in early spring.

“First, we wanted to take a loose piece of cartilage out, which we did arthroscopically through a couple of small incisions,” said Dr. Farmer, who performs between 500 and 600 surgeries each year. “Then, we wanted to address a cartilage defect to get that to fill in with some new cartilage, so we used his own biology. It’s called platelet-rich plasma therapy. You take the blood, you spin it down, and you get the platelets, which are basically little water balloons or growth factors, and you use that to help stimulate a healing response and try to generate some new cartilage.”

Grant Holloway at the hurdles at James G. Pressly Stadium
Grant Holloway at James G. Pressly Stadium. (Photo by Betsy Brzezinski)

In a bit of foreshadowing, the future Olympian underwent the operation on July 4, 2017. That day, Grant recalls waking up in a haze, not sure where he was. He could rest assured that, once again, he couldn’t be in a better place.

He was being cared for by Dr. Farmer, who was named the 2023 SEC Team Physician of the Year. Meanwhile, he was at UF Health, which is a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic National Medical Center and gives all Gator athletes access to leading-edge health care.

Grant was among the first patients here to benefit from blood flow restriction therapy, which involves doing physical therapy under a tourniquet. The approach helps the healing process by stimulating a much quicker response to muscle training and strengthening. Dr. Farmer learned about blood flow restriction therapy through his time at the NFL Combine before bringing the then-novel technique to UF Health.

“Now, everyone uses that. It's very common in this day and age, but back then, it was still very new,” Dr. Farmer said. “The military was the first to use it, then the NFL started using it, and we were the first college team to use it, and then our therapists here began using it for all of our patients.”

Typically, the recovery time for someone with Grant’s knee injury would be four to eight months. Grant made it back in four, and after just seven months, he broke what was then the indoor collegiate record in the 60-meter hurdles by clocking a 7.42.

Grant credits the determination trait he shares with Dr. Farmer. The doctor and patient still maintain a close relationship.

“I think the biggest thing that most great people have in common is that we’re a little crazy. We have that little crazy aspect in us that says like, ‘OK, you’re going to be off your feet for eight weeks? OK, just because you said eight weeks, I’m going to try to get back in six,’” Grant said. “I think Dr. Farmer and I both knew what was at stake, and we both knew we wanted to be able to conquer it together.”

The silver lining and the missing piece in Paris

Grant’s only other appearance as an Olympian in Tokyo 2020 was far from the experience he dreamed of as a child.

For one, that event officially took place a year late because of COVID-19, with only the athletes permitted in the otherwise empty and strangely silent venues.

Secondly, Grant’s defeat was heartbreaking, considering he entered that 110-meter final as the world leader and top qualifier in both initial rounds. Expectations were sky high after the U.S. trials, where Holloway clocked a 12.81, a hair off the world record time of 12.80 set by fellow American Aries Merritt in 2012.

However, Grant wouldn’t have enjoyed his overwhelming success since that race if he weren’t raised to find value in failure. To be able to look at both sides of a scenario. Or a silver medal.

"When I look at the silver medal, I see hard work and determination from the previous years in my childhood,” Grant said. “And I can’t wait to turn that silver into gold."

From an early age, Grant was exposed to several sports, including football, basketball and track. His mother, Tasha, and his father, Stan, encouraged him to experience all the ups and downs that came with each one.

“The main message was to persevere, don’t quit,” said Tasha, who will be in Paris along with the rest of his family if he qualifies in the U.S. trials from June 21-30. “Appreciate the bad times just as much as you appreciate the great times.”

Grant has been able to do more of the latter, and he credits UF Health for continuing to allow him and so many others to realize their brightest moments on the world stage.

“UF Health is amazing, simple as that, because there’s so many great athletes that come out of the University of Florida. If you took UF to the Olympics as a whole, we could be our own country,” Grant said. “That just goes to show you that not only are we great, but UF Health is making sure they’re getting to the world stage healthy.”

Read more Amazing Athlete stories.

Editor’s note: In the U.S. track and field trials, Holloway dominated the men’s 110-meter hurdles to qualify for Paris. Holloway put the world on notice by posting three sub-13 second times, winning the final with a time of 12.86, the fourth-fastest time in history. Holloway now owns two of the four fastest times ever recorded in the event and is now officially a two-time Olympian.

About the author

Talal Elmasry
Marketing Content Writer

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