A joyous and meaningful homecoming
It is always special when Sarah Holmes returns to Niagara to play in front of a hometown crowd.
“I love it,” the 20-year old Welland native said. “I love playing in front of my family and friends.”
This year’s return to Niagara by the six-foot Guelph Gryphons women’s basketball guard was extra special because it was her first game back on the floor after 11 games on the sidelines.
The mid-November injury she suffered was anything but a run-of-the-mill rolled ankle or some other minor malady.
“I had really bad chest pains and shortness of breath at a Friday morning practice, went to the emergency ward Saturday morning and spend five days in hospital,” Holmes said Wednesday, after the visiting Gryphons defeated the Brock Badgers 72-44 in Ontario University Athletics action.
It was an uncertain and frightening time for the Welland Centennial grad.
“It was really scary because they ran a ton of tests on me,” she said. “They did an angiogram which doesn’t really happen to 20 year olds, they took a lot of blood, and did a couple of echocardiograms.”
Doctors eventually diagnosed her with pericarditis, which is inflammation of the pericardium (the fibrous sac that surrounds the heart), and refused to give her medical clearance to resume playing.
“It was the worst feeling,” the third-year adult development major said. “It was so awful, but it made me stronger because I had to fight through it.”
Holmes went from averaging 11.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game to cheerleader status.
“It was very frustrating to sit on the bench but I knew as long as I could support my team I would be OK,” Holmes said. “They were all with me though the whole journey.
“I’m so lucky the coaching staff and everyone was there to support me because some days were really low.”
Holmes was sorely missed by her teammates and Guelph head coach Mark Walton.
“She was our leading scorer and rebounder and when you take her out of the lineup, there is a big hole to fill,” he said. “And she does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”
Walton asked Holmes to help her team in other ways.
“All the time she was off, she was encouraging her teammates and she was a model prisoner as I called it,” he said. “She was in her prison on the bench because she didn’t get medical clearance.
“I told her she had to contribute in other ways and that’s what she did.”
Holmes ended up getting a second opinion earlier this week and was cleared to play.
“They said the pericarditis was gone and I was good to go,” she said.
Holmes made a brief but impressive appearance in 10 minutes of playing time Wednesday night at the Bob Davis Gymnasium. She hit her first two three-pointers and finished 2-for-3 from the floor with six points and two rebounds. She looked shocked when her first shot hit nothing but net.
“It was crazy and I didn’t even know what happened,” she said. “The coaches said to get out there, try to slash the key and look to drive. I just decided to shoot it.”
By the end of her first shift, she was gasping for air and looked like she had run a marathon with her entire team on her back.
“I was so tired because I am so out of shape,” she said, with a laugh. “It is going to take time to get back into game shape.”
Unfortunately rust wasn’t the only thing she was dealing with Wednesday night.
“She just got medical clearance and she has this horrible cold,” Walton said. “She is having trouble breathing, her head is congested and it’s all in her throat.
“But she a warrior and a trooper and she will come through it.”
Regardless of where her basketball career takes her, this season has taught Holmes a valuable life lesson and given her the tools to get through most anything.
“You have to cherish every moment and not take anything for granted,” she said. “It is really important to be healthy and I’m so lucky to have the sports that I have.”