Finding the right path
|Boston College-bound Liz Holmes poses with her speech and voice therapist, Sharon Frank, who helped solve her breathing problems and allow her to have a standout career as a runner at Foxboro High School.(Photo by Andrew Steel)|
Track star Liz Holmes breathing easier as she heads for BC
By Andrew Steel
A dedicated runner for the Foxboro High School track and cross-country teams since freshman year of high school, Holmes has shown herself to be an extraordinarily talented athlete. In her four-year career, she has claimed a plethora of FHS track and cross-country records, served as a captain to the FHS teams, and even placed first at national events.
Despite her numerous accolades as a competitor, Holmes claims her greatest accomplishment as a runner was simply sticking with it.
“I wasn’t going to do (track) freshman year, I was going to do soccer,” Holmes says. “I was injured sophomore year with a hairline fracture on my femur. My stepfather passed away the summer before junior year … People experience much worse things every single day, but sticking with track and moving forward and taking the initiative to make myself better … I could have said, “I’m just going to stop.””
On top of injury and loss, Holmes also struggled with a severe breathing disorder. “I started having symptoms as early as middle school. One of my friend’s moms noticed it, and one of her older daughters has asthma.”
Holmes visited an asthma doctor, who prescribed her an inhaler. “I’d say to myself, ‘I’m taking this inhaler, it must be working’,” Holmes recalls.
However, her breathing difficulties persisted, and they weren’t limited to her athletics. “When I was just sitting in class, or watching TV, I would have to stop everything I was doing … I would have to bend down and grab on to my sides, to get this one breath of air.”
Holmes endured three years of high school sports with this condition, succeeding tremendously in spite of it, before she finally found the help she needed. She went to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and told them of her frustration.
“This just won’t give,” I told them. “It’s really affecting my running.”
Holmes was prescribed another inhaler, which did very little to alleviate her breathing. However, she also received a useful diagnosis: her condition was not, in fact, a form of asthma.
It was her vocal cords causing the problem.
“The vocal cords are like a horizontal V in the throat,” explains Sharon Frank, a Speech and Language Pathologist practicing in Foxboro. “Though we use them for speech, the primary purpose of the vocal cords is really to prevent us from choking!”
“Paradoxical Vocal Cord Motion, or PVFM, occurs when they’re closing and coming together when they’re supposed to stay open,” Frank says.
Holmes was diagnosed with PVFM at Mass General. Her vocal cords would, often randomly, close, constricting her windpipe at inappropriate times; namely, when she was running.
“It wasn’t until my mom found Sharon that I started making progress,” Holmes says of Frank.
Over the course of the year, Frank has worked with Holmes to improve her vocal cords’ functionality through specialized exercises.
Though Holmes hardly skipped a step with her running, the results of Frank’s assistance are clear to her.
“It was the first meet of the spring season, and I had to run the mile and the two-mile,” she remembers. “I wasn’t nervous about not winning, I was just more nervous about being able to keep my breathing down.”
After running both the mile and the two-mile in one meet, Holmes had been prepared for the usual struggle to catch her breath. But the troubles never came.
“I finished, and almost immediately, I went into my cool-down run,” she says. “The transition from ‘race pace’ to ‘you’re finished with the race’ was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”
Besides her excellence as a runner, Holmes has also been successful as a student, garnering As and Bs throughout her academic career riddled with five Advanced Placement courses. To her, though, the challenge of balancing schoolwork and sports has been “no challenge at all.” She modestly defers credit for her good grades: “My mom and dad are both really intelligent people.”
Outside of classes and running, the volunteer student group Rosie’s Rafikis, has also been close to her heart.
“In the fourth grade, at the Burrell School, we lost our best friend Rose (Shatz),” she said, telling how the youngster was fatally struck by a truck while riding her bicycle near her home on Willow Street. “She was like my best friend … It was really tough.”
After a trip to Kenya, Rosie’s parents founded the Rafikis to uphold their daughter’s passion for charity and community. Holmes has assisted over the years, and was pleased recently to help in awarding a fellow student with the group’s first-ever award.
“It’s a really nice way to stay connected after such a tragedy, and to honor Rose herself,” says Holmes.
Liz has also been an active member of the Foreign Language Club.
“We don’t really practice language that much, it’s more of a culture thing,” she notes. “It’s fun. We go on silly fun field trips. World Culture night is really fun; we bring in people that live in Foxboro from all different cultures; there are a BUNCH of different foods, different trinkets … the cafe is packed that night.”
Holmes has bright horizons moving forward. In the fall, she will begin her career as a member of the Boston College class of 2019. “One of my best friends said his dream school was BC,” says Holmes. “He said, ‘You should just email BC.’ I said, ‘You know what, I will.'”
“Within 20 minutes of sending an email, the coach replied and called me,” she says.
It was love at first visit, back in September.
“I wanted to be able to get into college, run track, all those perks. But, I don’t plan to run past college. If I just want to focus on academics, I will be able to do that and thrive.”
“I had all this pressure in high school … now I won’t have it as much.”
Holmes has a good idea of what she wants to do after college, too.
“My mom is an immigration lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security, she’s my idol,” says Holmes. “She wakes up every morning, and her job description has changed over the course of the years, but she makes sure that those in the country that deserve to be in the country are not deported just because.
“She stays in touch with so many people she has helped,” Holmes recalls. “One of those people came to my prom pictures. He went to Harvard Medical School, he’s just thriving here.”
“Whatever I can do to have people live a happier and healthier life,” Holmes says. “I think doing that with law would be very beneficial to myself and others.”
As another bright star soon blazes into the wide world beyond Foxboro, she parts with swift feet and full lungs, a sharp mind, and a kind heart.
By Maxine E. Van Doren, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech and Voice Therapy Center, LLC
If you’re heading to a fright fest this Halloween, make sure you don’t bring the spooky home with you! Vocal cord injuries (such as nodules or hemorrhaging) can occur in as little as one evening of vocal misuse, resulting in hoarseness or vocal fatigue. Here are 4 tips to care for your voice this Halloween, so what happens at fright fest stays at fright fest:
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Vocal cords are very susceptible to dehydration, and nodules love a dry larynx.
- Consider using a “silent scream” face or an alternative that is easier on the voice such as a gasping or “screaming” quietly.
- Use diaphragmatic breathing when screaming to provide appropriate power and support for your voice. This can help prevent extra muscle tension in the throat.
- If you feel like you’re straining your voice, then trust your feelings and give your voice a rest. While you’re at it, have a sip of water.
If your voice sounds hoarse for more than 2 weeks following your outing, don’t wait for the problem to go away on its own. Make an appointment to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physician to have your throat evaluated for possible injuries. Early treatment can improve your symptoms, and provide you with techniques for healthy voice use in your everyday life.
By Maxine E. Van Doren, M.S., CCC-SLP
Teachers, do you find that your voice wears out during the first weeks of the school year?
Many teachers say they have hoarseness, vocal fatigue, or even complete voice loss at the beginning of the school year that often goes away after a few weeks.
Though many feel this is normal, consistent hoarseness at the beginning of each year should be evaluated by an Ear, Nose, and Throat physician (ENT) as it may be the beginning of a persistent voice problem.
It is not uncommon for teachers to say they had hoarseness at the start of each year until one year their voice “just didn’t come back,” or “felt strained” throughout the school year.
Treating the problem early can prevent it from interfering with your professional and personal responsibilities later on.
See more information on Adult Voice Disorders to find out how this can be treated.
Did you know….
Children with communication disorders are more likely to struggle with literacy skills. They often perform poorly in school, have difficulty understanding and expressing language, and have problems reading. These children have trouble reaching their true academic potential due to their speech and language disorders. In addition, these children tend to have issues with frustration and poor self-esteem and may be at risk for depression. Don’t wait and hope your child will outgrow a communication problem. Early detection leads to early treatment. The earlier you get help for your child, the better.
To learn more identifying signs for speech, language, hearing, and voice disorders go to: