GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In the realm of Dragon Ball Z, an anime television series Grant Holloway loves, Saiyans are the universe’s strongest warrior race.
A handful of Saiyans, Son Goku head among them, protect Earth from evil. They engage in hand-to-hand combat and vanquish enemies with energy beams. Physically they resemble humans, save for their black spiky hair and particularly dark eyes. They elevate their “battle power” through training, and those with gentle spirits can raise the number of “S-Cells” in their bodies. Both are necessary to generate a Super Saiyan transformation. The Super Saiyan form is 50 times more powerful than a Saiyan’s base form. In the heightened state, their hair spikes up and glows gold, their eyes turn an aquamarine tint, a visible golden aura of energy surrounds them.
Holloway believes he is a Super Saiyan.
(Not literally. Just when it comes to his athletic talents—parts of which he compares to a handful of Dragon Ball Z characters—and his Twitter header, which he fills with one of Goku’s Super Saiyan forms ahead of meets to let the world know how strong he feels.)
Go ahead, laugh. Dismiss it as fantasy.
Given the historic feats, the pair of NCAA titles, the laundry list of oh-my-gosh-that-just-happened moments Holloway produced last year, though, maybe there is some truth to it. Or perhaps validation will come Saturday and Sunday at the SEC Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas, where the sophomore will defend his 60-meter hurdles conference title and attempt to lower the collegiate record he set two weeks ago. He will also contend for the long jump crown (entering competition tied for fourth nationally) and running for Florida’s 4x400 relay team—which is coming off the fourth-fastest time ever recorded indoors. Such world-class versatility is unparalleled.
Super Saiyan or not, Holloway’s 2017 season affirmed him as one of track and field’s fastest-ascending stars.
First came dominance en route to his NCAA title in the 60 hurdles. Olympic and world champion Omar McLeod, previous holder of the collegiate record Holloway now owns, is the only other freshman to pull that off. Ninety-five minutes later, as the second leg for Florida’s NCAA runner-up 4x400 relay team, he split 44.81 seconds (anything under 45 is elite indoors, which produces times slightly slower than outdoors).
Three weeks after that absurdity, he hawked five runners with a 44.1-second split to complete a sixth-to-first comeback victory for the Gators’ 4x400 relay team. The clip went viral.
Holloway saved a far greater performance for last June’s NCAA Outdoor Championships. He captured the 110-meter hurdles national title, making him the first-ever freshman to sweep the indoor and outdoor high hurdles. Paired with a runner-up finish in the long jump, Holloway became the first collegian of all time with top-two finishes in both events. The grand finale? A 43.89-second 4x400 relay split (best in the field and a tenth better than 2017 NCAA and American 400 meters champion Fred Kerley of Texas A&M), anchoring the Gators to the fourth-place finish they needed to secure a second consecutive team championship.
Among professionals at the United States Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Holloway missed the 110 hurdles podium and one of three IAAF World Championships berths by five hundredths of a second. Devon Allen, a two-time American champion, was the one who barely held him off.
And he did it all—everything, from January to June—with a dime-sized piece of detached cartilage floating between his knee and kneecap.
“Every single day it hurt. A lot,” Holloway said. “It was just killing me. It hurt to the point where I’d wake up in the middle of the night in pain.”
Head coach Mike Holloway (the two believe they are distant cousins, tracing family back to Albany, Georgia) and his staff managed the injury all year, adjusting Holloway’s training as best they could. Once everyone found out exactly what he pushed through, the whole season seemed surreal.
“When they did the surgery [in July] and told us the extent of what he was running with last year, the size of the chip in his knee … I was just like, wow,” said Coach Holloway, well known for producing Olympians and world champions in his 23 years at Florida. “Those were phenomenal things he did. Absolutely phenomenal.”
Maybe a Super Saiyan is among us.
Area code 757, tattooed on Holloway’s left wrist, services the southeastern-most portions of Virginia, covering the Virginia Peninsula, Eastern Shore and Hampton Roads.
Holloway proudly hails from Chesapeake. South Chesapeake, more specifically. Through the years, much of its farmland was converted into what he refers to today as a quiet suburban city, one of nine comprising Hampton Roads.
The area code’s recent lineage of professional athletes is astounding. Hall of Famer Allen Iverson rose from Hampton. Seven-time NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning and 3-time NFL Pro Bowl safety DeAngelo Hall are Chesapeake natives. Percy Harvin was born there but made his name in Virginia Beach, eventually starring at wide receiver for the Gators and playing eight NFL seasons. Dorian Finney-Smith, another recent Florida star and current Dallas Maverick, came from Portsmouth. Norfolk produced David Wright, a two-time Gold Glover and Silver Slugger Award winner for the New York Mets. Recent track and field talents to emerge from Chesapeake are Byron Robinson, a 2016 Olympian, and Michael Cherry, this year’s indoor 400 meters American champion.
Holloway’s name reverberates across the 757. He frequently reciprocates on the grandest stages, like last year’s NCAA Outdoors. Immediately after crossing the 110 hurdles finish line, he found an ESPN camera and shouted, “757 all day! 757!”
A light pink bracelet was wrapped around Holloway’s right wrist. Accessories—everything from watches to wristbands, headbands to arm sleeves—are somewhat of a calling card for him. He typically wears three or four items. That day, however, just the bracelet inscribed Kaitlyn Elizabeth Duffy. Exactly three weeks prior, Kaitlyn was killed when a drunk driver struck her SUV head-on. She was a friend of Holloway's, 18 years old and a month away from graduating high school.
“It kind of hit me hard,” Holloway recalled. “I got in touch with the parents and asked if there was any possible way they could get me something I could wear to let her know I’m doing this for her … to let the family know I’m trying to keep her in everybody’s thoughts.”
Once Florida’s championship celebration wound down, Holloway noticed a missed call from an unknown 757 number amid the plethora of congratulatory text messages, voicemails and social media notifications. Curious, he dialed the number back. Kaitlyn’s mother, Tammy, answered the phone, crying as she thanked Holloway. Later that summer, he gave the family a signed photo from his title-winning race.
“That right there brought tears to many people here in the city,” said his father, Stan Holloway. “It just showed the type of character Grant is.”
At different points in the year, Holloway wore two other bracelets commemorating Chesapeake teenagers who tragically passed away. One with shades of pink, yellow and orange for Kelly Valentine, a 13-year-old struck by a car and killed in April 2011. The other was light purple and white, in remembrance of Megan Curry, who died in June 2015 following a nearly four-year battle with a rare blood disorder.
“Me wearing the wristbands and making a story out of it, everybody was kind of intrigued and always remembering Kelly, Megan, and Kaitlyn,” Holloway said. “At the same time, I wanted to do it for myself to give me something to motivate me every day at a practice, something to push me at the track meet.”
Pure-hearted acts like those are common nature for Holloway. And it’s all genuine. One hundred percent.
Holloway’s father and Leroy Harper, Grassfield High School’s head track and field coach and assistant football coach, both shared a story from the indoor state championships Holloway’s senior year. A little boy recognized and congratulated him on his trio of state titles. As Stan and Harper retell it, Holloway took off one of his gold medals and handed it to the boy. The boy’s father recently tried to give it back to Stan. “Grant gave that medal to that young man, and that’s where it belongs,” he replied.
“That’s the thing about Grant; he hasn’t changed,” Harper said. “He still does that now. These kids that are here, everybody’s walking around in Florida gear like they’re part of the team. That’s the kind of person he is.”