Holly Koester: Find the ABILITY in DISABILITY




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Pictures shown include Holly with State Representatives, as well as photos of Holly's Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence Program sponsored dog, Diamond.

Competitor, activist, veteran, dog lover: No matter how you refer to Holly Koester, there is no doubt you will be amazed by the long track record of achievement throughout her life. For starters, she is a nationally recognized marathon competitor. Holly is an Army veteran who has been a wheelchair athlete since a traffic accident in 1990. Holly set out to push the envelope of what is possible for people with disabilities.

Shortly after her accident, she participated in the first National Veteran Wheelchair Games put on by the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) in 1991. During this experience, she witnessed over 300 veterans in wheelchairs competing in track, swimming, basketball, quad rugby, and more. Holly shares, “I knew then, I wanted to learn how to race.” She says, “I started racing marathons in 1996; I found a running group that informed me about doing marathons in all 50 states.” With this introduction, Holly was off to the races.

While this alone would be an impressive accomplishment, Holly cannot take all the credit. Her service dog, Spokes, who she obtained from Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence (ADAI), a program of The Ability Center, was there from the beginning. Spokes traveled with Holly to countless races before passing away in 2011. Glory, Holly’s second service dog, picked up right where Spokes left off and joined Holly in her journey. Glory serves as Holly’s travel companion and is there waiting at the finish line after every race. Holly says, “Nothing is better to come back to after a long hard race, than an excited tail wagging and puppy kisses from Glory.” Glory not only supports Holly on race days, but also throughout the year. Glory flips light switches, retrieves the TV remote, gloves, and wrist braces. Anything out of reach, she comes to the rescue.

By the 32nd race, Holly and Glory thought they had it all figured out but shared there have been challenging races. Holly confesses, “I have had two difficult races. One was San Diego’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon: I crashed into a road guard trying to avoid a runner going downhill at the ten-mile mark. It bent my frame and flattened my front and one rear wheel. The second, at the Mount Rushmore Marathon, the course was altered to go uphill to Crazy Horse Monument after I'd already registered for the race. It took 10 hours to complete.”

On February 22, Holly was recognized by State Representative Anielski at the Ohio State House. Anielski presented a proclamation celebrating Holly’s athletic achievements at the National Veteran Wheelchair Games, winning seven gold medals in track and swimming events, hand cycle, air rifle, and billiards. Holly was also recognized for 19 years of teaching, peer counseling, and motivational speaking.

Representative Anielski even slipped in a fun fact that Holly was featured on the Cheerios box in 2007. The awards don’t stop there for this veteran. Holly has also been selected for the SPEEDY Award, the highest award that PVA gives. Holly will be the first female to receive this award.

Over the course of 27 years, 50 states, and countless races, Holly is a shining example of passion and perseverance. People like Holly are creating positive change, not only within the world of athletics for people with disabilities, but also as a role model for our country.