Benefield: Forward focus for Santa Rosa High School runner Aimee Holland
Aimee Holland doesn't typically look back.
Not when she's running, not when she's thinking about life and where she is today. Not when she thinks about how far she has come and her extraordinarily unique beginnings.
She's not afraid or ashamed to look back, but she doesn't want to be defined by “her story.” Her story says something about her but it doesn't define her. She's more comfortable eyes forward. She even runs that way - with a lean so pitched her coaches say she tilts dangerously forward at the end of races, sometimes crumpling just after crossing the line.
And of course, if she does fall, she falls forward.
Holland, a senior at Santa Rosa High School, has posted the third-fastest time for the 800 meters in the history of Panther girls track. The only Panthers who have run that distance faster are the near-legendary Julia Stamps (Mallon) in 1996 and Sadia Ibrahim in 2012. She's 27th on the all-empire list in that distance despite being relatively new to track. She finished 12th at the Meet of Champions last spring and is only getting faster.
Her coaches say she's got the natural ability - but more importantly, the determination - to lower her times in her final high school track season.
A late-comer to cross country, she finished fifth at the North Bay League meet last fall - an eye-popping achievement for a runner considered more of a sprinter by her coaches.
“She is one of the most versatile runners we have ever had,” longtime Santa Rosa High distance coach Carrie Joseph said.
Maybe that comes from her athletic background. A basketball and soccer player, Holland excelled especially at soccer, making the Santa Rosa High varsity squad as a freshman.
“She was an amazing soccer player,” said Panthers soccer coach Nikki Kumasaka.
This is the point at which Holland is asked to go back, to think back about soccer and why she doesn't play anymore, how she found track and why things work out the way they do.
Freshman year, during a college soccer showcase in San Francisco, a player came in from behind, taking out Holland's plant leg as she was striking the ball. A second player came at her from the front. Her body whipped backward. The back of her head hit the all-weather synthetic turf first. At least, that's what she was told later. She doesn't remember a thing.
“She was really out of it for a couple of weeks,” her dad, Jim Holland said. “And she is a pretty tough kid.”
Her life was suddenly confined to little beyond long hours in her dark bedroom, sleeping and eating. She had memory loss and confusion. School work - when she finally returned to campus after weeks - was a nightmare. She returned in phases - two periods a day, then four. She was given extra time to take tests, allowances on school work.
And this: she was prohibited from playing soccer.
Annette and Jim Holland felt sure that their oldest daughter should not risk her health to keep playing. A neurologist backed them up. Aimee Holland had other ideas.
“She fought back,” Annette Holland said. “It took awhile to convince Aimee that that was the best choice.”
“It was pretty hard on her,” Jim Holland remembers.
After all, she had plans. She was an elite player. She wanted to play in college. Her team was her social circle. In many ways, the sport was her life.
Aimee Holland remembers those weeks and months as a dark time - figuratively and literally. But a light was coming; she just couldn't see it yet.
That spring, still suffering from concussion symptoms, she was held out of standardized testing. She was sent to the gym while her classmates took the tests. Doug Courtemarche, the veteran Santa Rosa High track and cross country coach, was there, watching students, making sure no one got into trouble.
“He just came up and we started talking and all of a sudden I found myself telling him everything and I didn't even know him very well,” she said. “He was my first lifeline, whether he knew it or not.”
“Everything” in Holland's case is quite something.
Sure, she told him about her concussion, about how having soccer cut out of her life was devastating. But she also told him where she came from. She went back before the concussion, before soccer, before she could even remember.
“I paint a picture in my head, a constant picture in my head, of what I think it is,” she says now. “It's me, on the corner, or me in a box as a baby, on the corner of a street.”
Aimee Holland was 16 days old when a street sweeper found her in a box on a street corner in Panyu, China.
“That's all we've been told,” Annette Holland said.
They aren't certain of her birthday. They have no background on her parentage or health history.