SUNDAY PROFILE: Senior Olympian training in Bogalusa

Published 5:57 am Sunday, March 17, 2013

Anyone who saw the woman outside a Bogalusa store recently running back and forth with an umbrella to help people to their vehicles after it unexpectedly started raining might be wondering her identity. Even those who know Barbara Holloway but haven’t seen her in the past few months might have been left scratching their heads.

If it was Holloway, she was only a shadow of her former self.

Not only did she lose 74 pounds in the past year or so, she became an Olympian.

Holloway won first place in a state competition in Lafayette last November, and that qualified her for the National Senior Olympics in Cleveland in July. Her sport is race walking.

She said she didn’t go to Lafayette with the goal of making the Olympics, but she is now training every day to make Bogalusa proud.

Holloway, who at 61 radiates a powerful healthy energy, said she was always a very active child but had gotten “severely sedentary” and “rather large.”

That changed on Valentine’s Day 2012 when her husband, Roger, sent two dozen roses to her office.

“They were absolutely gorgeous,” Holloway said. “The girls at the office wanted to take my picture with the roses. I handed them my phone, and when they handed it back I said, ‘That’s not me.’ I cried all the way home.”

That’s when she made up her mind to get back in shape.

“It was flowers from my husband that did it,” Holloway said.

She transitioned from sedentary to full speed ahead, and as the pounds dropped away they were replaced with a renewed vitality.

A few months later, last May, Holloway took part in her first race, a 5K to benefit Cassidy Park.

“I said, ‘I’m going to do that,’” she said. “The thought of walking three miles at that time compared to me walking to Covington. Now, about two weeks ago I did a half marathon, 13.1 miles. I averaged 12-minute miles.

“When I did the marathon, I knew I probably would never do another. It was on my Bucket List and I just wanted to cross it off. But now I catch myself looking at others and thinking, ‘I might do this.’”

Holloway especially likes to take part in benefits. She has walked in support of the fights against childhood cancer, autism and the abuse of women and children, among other causes, since her return to the active life.

Besides the satisfaction, she has ribbons, medals, trophies and paper race “bibs” to remind her of her efforts.

Holloway also has special memories with her children and grandchildren.

“When you do one of these races with your grandchildren running beside and they turn around and say, ‘That’s my grandmother that just passed you’ nobody could top it!” she said.

Holloway is feeling good. Her physical fitness now stems from her diet as well and she’s in charge of Weight Watchers in Bogalusa.

She’s feeling darn near invincible.

“I can’t think of anything I can’t do,” Holloway said. “I would try anything.”

She regularly empowers herself by setting and then achieving a goal.

“When I cross the finish line, at that point I’m on top of the world,” she said. “Absolutely nothing could hold me down at that point. I could conquer anything.

“I try to get people to walk so they can get that feeling.”

Age does not have to cause people to sit down and grow fat and unfit, she said.

“Doing this, I run into people all the time in their 70s and 80s who are doing it, too,” Holloway said. “It’s fun. It’s amazing!”

She wants everybody to heed her message, get up and get back into life, and she even agreed to post her ‘Before’ picture to help provide some inspiration.

“If it helps one person to get up, I’ll be happy,” Holloway said. “I wouldn’t normally spread around those fat pictures.”

As she prepared to get back to one of her three regular jobs on Wednesday, the ageless Olympian did a few stretches in contemplation.

“When I had my ‘aha’ day and I got through crying about how large I’d let myself get, I made a promise to myself,” Holloway said. “There are 24 hours in a day, and I deserve one of them. If I can take one hour a day to improve myself, I can do better with the other 23…and I can help others.”

Like keeping them out of the rain.

In July, the Bogalusa resident and businesswoman will become an Olympian, but lots of local folks say she’s already a champion.