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March 4, 2003

Deafness doesn't stop Holmes from ruling the ice

From: Penn State Digital Collegian, PA - 04 Mar 2003

By Mike Garvey

For The Collegian

For the second straight season, sophomore Lady Icer Becky Holmes has proved herself a very valuable and integral part of the team.

Scoring 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 26 regular-season games on defense merits roaring crowd applause and demands a great deal of attention from opposing teams. The fact that she has been profoundly deaf since the age of 2 doesn't allow Holmes to aurally take in crowd cheers, but certainly does not hinder her ability to play hockey, her drive and dedication, or her near-familial relationships with her teammates.

While Holmes' disability does not produce major conflicts on the ice, her teammates' awareness of her deafness solves all of the minor situations that arise.

When it comes time for pre-game introductions, a teammate will tap Holmes on the leg with a stick when her name is called, as referees are also notified that she is deaf. Occasionally during a game, she will continue to crash the boards going after the puck after the whistle has been blown. However, there is always someone on the ice who will take a few extra seconds to accommodate her inability to hear.

Holmes, who can predict where her partner will go on the ice, even credits her deafness in aiding her strong and spirited play.

"Even hearing players will tell you that they don't hear what's in the stands," she said. "I see the puck, I see my team ... I focus on that."

Kristen Reed, her partner on defense, agrees.

"We've had better communication than other defenses because we have to work harder to do what we need to do," Reed said.

Holmes' affinity for playing ice hockey stems from her natural gifts of size, strength and deftness. What is remarkable is that, after nine years of figure skating, at age 16, she took up ice hockey. According to Lady Icers head coach Jeremy Sharpe, she is a "great skater, [and] great at moving the puck."

"She has such an exceptional ability, as we all do, on the ice," Reed said.

Instead of knocking her opponents directly to the ground by way of a massive check, Holmes gives to incoming forwards something she and her teammates call the "Bear Hug."

The "Bear Hug" duplicates the squeezing, immobilizing pressure a bear applies as it wraps its arms around its prey. Of course, though, it is duplicated without the grizzly appearance of a bear, while still balanced on razor-thin skate blades. It has for her two-year tenure become her signature style of bringing opponents to the ice, though, sometimes getting her into penalty trouble.

"Sometimes I get called," she said, "sometimes I don't."

Simply, her job is to protect the zone and goalie, as well as help out the forwards. But her always-positive demeanor and hard work have forged an impression upon coaches and teammates alike.

"She knows the game really well," Sharpe said. "She's someone who works hard until she gets it right. I'd love to take the drive she has and put it into other personalities."

This is not to say that in Holmes' initial season, questions about her ability to play and communicate with a disability didn't arise.

"We were all a little worried how this would work out," Sharpe said. "We all had to make adjustments, but she's done her part."

Holmes' irreplaceable relationship with the rest of the Lady Icers speaks worlds about how unnoticed her deafness is.

"It wasn't until I started playing hockey [here] that I felt Penn State was my home," Holmes said. "We are the most obnoxious team in the ACHA. If we weren't obnoxious, we wouldn't be the Lady Icers. I can't imagine my college life without the Lady Icers."

"I wouldn't really like to have another defensive partner [out there]," Reed said.

Sharpe added: "I think she's a wonderful kid for having the drive to continue to play a sport where communication is so vital."

There are no outright visible signs on the ice that Becky Holmes is deaf. Even in a sport in which audio boosts the level of communication and competition, all she needs is her drive and her vision.

Copyright © 2003 Collegian Inc.