“I don’t believe in unbreakable. I believe you break and mend, but you always mend a little better.”
Just two years ago the 30-year-old British star was told she would never run again, would never be competitive again. But instead of accepting that grim prognosis, she sought another one and fought on.
Holly underwent surgery on the foot injury which threatened to end her career. It proved successful and now she is ready to bid for glory against the strongest field in triathlon history in Florida on Sunday (December 6).
“I had a pretty gnarly injury, I was told I wouldn’t run again or be competitive again. It kind of gives you more perspective on things.
“I broke one of the bones in my foot, which is the worst bone to break in your body. It just doesn’t heal very well, and I didn’t deal with it so well at the time.
“I wasn’t ready for it to be over, I just loved where I was at. I just never thought that it could be taken away like that.”
The pain of rehab
The road to recovery for Holly was painful, not just physically but mentally too. The memory of rehab is still fresh in her mind.
“I did the injury in April, had the surgery maybe early June and I was back winning my first race in December.
“I would just crutch to the pool every day, wipe out on the concrete, trying to hide my tears on the way out, but getting through that has probably been the year of the most growth for me.
“Just to have the negative experience I think helps you to hold onto just living in the moment and grab it with both hands and really make the most of it.”
The 70.3 World Champion in 2016 and now standing at #6 in the PTO World Rankings, Holly has made a habit of proving people wrong. Something she feels she has been doing most of her life.
“I think I have changed a lot in the last couple of years. How I entered triathlon was like, kind of written off, you know, I came into it late, I’ve never run fast enough, like my face didn’t fit.
“I just never was kind of accepted and that’s kind of when I went long-course and was kind of like F the federation, you know, I’m doing this for myself.
“You know, even when I gained sponsors and stuff, I like put the pressure super-hard on myself.
“I remember I booked the wrong flights once and obviously money was tight anyway, and I remember like smashing my laptop and I would just be like this rage.
“I had a bad session once and Sean (Jefferson, Holly’s partner) thought I was some lunatic like jumping my bike up and down because the power meter stopped working.”
Sean is the first to admit he is a very different type of personality to Holly, but it appears to work well.
He said: “Being in a relationship with a professional triathlete can be quite intense, some flare-ups here and there. It’s my responsibility to make sure she does well.
“I’m super-patient, very laid-back, mellow, even the way I drive, she gets pissed off at the way I drive because I drive slow sometimes. I wouldn’t even say slow, I think it’s safe, I drive safely, she likes to be a little more like foot down full gas.”
Proving people wrong since 1990
While Holly says she is a little more chilled now than in years gone by, she admits to being “pretty stubborn”. A trait again borne out of that desire to change people’s perceptions, and ultimately to win.
“I want people to underestimate me and I want to prove them wrong, I feel like I have just been doing that for forever.
“I don’t know where that really comes from, maybe growing up as a triplet. My sister was amazing at gymnastics, being in my brother’s shadow in sport, you know. He was an athlete, he was way more talented than me, he was the talented one, not me.”
Now, after all those years of pain and hard work, Holly has earned the right to her place in triathlon’s elite. Good reason then for her to be suitably excited about that trip to Daytona.
She will go into the big race full of confidence, having advertised her wellbeing by winning IRONMAN 70.3 Cozumel in Mexico in late September.
“The PTO Championship is like the marquee event, it’s just the most competitive race.
“There are a lot of people that their strength is the run, if they are ITU girls, super-strong swimmers, that are strong bikers, but you don’t know how they can perform on a time-trial bike. It’s just a whole lot of unknowns there.
“You are just never going to be comfortable no matter where you are, because you know it’s never going to be a forgone conclusion.”
Holly, now based in Santa Monica, California, says whatever happens in Florida, her journey still has an awful long way to run.
“I feel like I am nowhere near where I can be. It’s not positions, it’s not winning titles, but like internally it’s inching closer to where you can be.”
As the countdown to race day approaches fast, the last word on this special talent goes to the man who knows her best, her partner Sean.
“I am incredibly impressed with her resilience, she came back and almost didn’t miss a beat, like I think had her best year. It’s incredibly inspiring and something you don’t see very often.”