Race : Tulsa’s Holloway battles cancer with support of teammates
If you look at the University of Tulsa offensive line, you can see the ties that bind them. You see their hulking bodies, their mammoth arms, and now their newly shaved bald heads.
The Tulsa offensive line has shaved their heads to honor teammate Wilson Holloway’s season-long battle with cancer.
‘I wasn’t sure if I would be physically able to play,’ Holloway said. ‘It was the first thing I asked because I have just heard the terrible horror stories about chemotherapy and just was worried I wasn’t going to be able to practice or workout over the summer.’
Holloway’s signs started during spring workouts. Sprints were agonizing. The air evaporated from his lungs and he felt fatigue he had never experienced before. The coaches noticed it too as Holloway stood panting between sprints.
The team pulled Holloway aside and had the trainers examine him. He underwent tests and X-rays to reveal there was a large mass in his chest pressing against his lungs and constricting his breathing. A final biopsy revealed that he had cancer – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Those two words sent Holloway home to his family in Edmond, Okla., to undergo treatment. As he lay at home that night he was bombarded with comforting calls and texts from his teammates, his other family. Holloway was determined to beat the cancer and get back on the football field in the fall.
For the next six months, Holloway would have three-week cycles of chemotherapy. He would have three days straight of chemotherapy, then have three weeks off. The treatment swung his weight from 265 down to 230 pounds before ballooning him up to 285. On Aug. 22, Holloway had his last round of chemo, one week later he played in Tulsa’s season opener against Alabama at Birmingham.
‘It felt great. I was just happy to be practicing, but being able to suit up and play, I can’t describe it, I was just very thankful.’
For the next five weeks, Holloway was used sparingly as a backup tackle for the Golden Hurricanes. It was after an Oct. 11 checkup that his worst nightmare was realized. The cancer had returned, just five weeks after doctors told him it was gone. Holloway immediately began a more vigorous and physically taxing chemo schedule. His first bout with Hodgkin’s left the veins in his arms too weak to withstand another treatment session, so a new port was installed in his chest to administer the cancer-fighting toxins. The more vigorous chemo schedule left Wilson with a new battle, one his teammates didn’t want to let him face alone.
It was then that lineman leader Nick Gates confronted Holloway to show him how his bravery had influenced the entire offensive line on a personal level. If Wilson were going to lose his hair in a bout with cancer, the whole offensive line would sport cleanly shaved heads as well.
‘It started out and I told him I would shave my head because I saw Brett Favre do it for his wife when she was going through chemotherapy,’ Gates said. ‘I ended up telling a couple guys on the line and next thing you know we were all doing it because we are like a big brotherhood. It gave Wilson something to look forward to if he lost his hair. That is why I did it. Even with the outlook he has it has to be hard for a kid to lose his hair.’
On the Tuesday preceding their Oct. 26 game against the University of Central Florida, the Hurricanes’ offensive line gathered in the Tulsa locker room for a head shaving ceremony. A salute to the strongest redshirt freshman in the country.
‘I got to have the clippers in my hand for a little bit,’ Holloway said. ‘It was a lot of fun because all the guys shaved their heads in weird ways before they cut it all off. It was just a great and fun atmosphere the whole night.’
That Sunday, the Tulsa linemen donned their newly shaved heads in a victory over UCF. Holloway both suited up and entered the game on the team’s final drive, helping spring a touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Just three weeks after beginning his second bout with cancer, he was back on the gridiron.
Holloway was named a candidate for the 2008 FedEx Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award for his bout with cancer. He is determined to bring it home too, not for himself though, but for his bald-headed brethren.
‘I was surprised when I first heard because I had heard of the award a couple years ago,’ Holloway said. ‘For me it is not much of an individual thing, what I am going through, I’m not going through it by myself. It is a team deal for me because everyone is there for me, I guess I should say we should win because we all help each other.’
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