Toledo women's golf team boosts ailing coach

By Dave Hackenberg
Published on

Nicole Hollingsworth and her University of Toledo women's golf team, the most accomplished on and off the links in school history, were on the road at 4 o'clock this morning, en route to the Detroit airport for a trip to Florida where the Rockets will practice and play for a few days.

This will be an 18-hour day and Hollingsworth has had more than a few of them in her 18 years as a college head coach ... grabbing a fast-food meal here, a candy bar or doughnut there, swigging down a 16-ounce soft drink or two at every opportunity.

Between travel, recruiting, practices, matches, raising funds, organizing tournaments, monitoring academics, etc., coaching can prompt a lifestyle that is hazardous to your health if you worry about others more than yourself.

So it came to pass that in November, 2014, Hollingsworth peered into a mirror and didn't recognize the person who was staring back. It was time to do something and she started a weight-loss and fitness program that resulted in the loss of 73 pounds.

She was going strong last July. One Monday she walked 18 holes in extreme heat to watch a UT player in the Marathon Classic LPGA qualifying tournament. The next day she did a few miles on a treadmill at Savage Arena. That Wednesday featured 130 laps in a swimming pool.

After that killer workout, pardon a bad pun, Hollingsworth stared down death. Literally.

On her way from the pool back to her UT office on July 15, she stopped to pick up lunch. Eating at her desk, she began suffering a queasy stomach and cramps. Figuring maybe some sort of virus was about to hit, she decided she should head home to rest.

Upon arriving, she remembers glancing at her new Fitbit watch and seeing her heart rate was an abnormally low 56 beats per minute. She experienced nausea and suddenly felt so hot she jumped fully clothed into a cool shower. She tried texting her best friend but couldn't make her thumbs or fingers work right. She was light-headed and her legs wouldn't support her. Her body, she sensed, was shutting down.

She hit the floor and, fortunately still clutching her cell phone, was able to punch in 911 and told the operator to have 'em break down the door if need be.

When the paramedics arrived, and she says they were quick to do so, her blood pressure was 190 over 130, her pulse was 40, and she was only marginally responsive. At age 43, she remembers hearing someone say "massive heart attack."

It turns out that wasn't it. Tests at a hospital to determine heart damage -- "the longest six hours of my life," she said -- thankfully were negative. But a heart catheterization several days later wasn't quite as encouraging.

"I didn't have a good feeling going in," Hollingsworth said. "I mean, I'd spent time with my minister and had put my estate in order, things like that. Many people believe breast cancer is the No. 1 killer for women. It's not. I learned it is heart disease."

The doctor handling the catheter was in good spirits, and then suddenly he wasn't. He found an "ulcerated dissection of the anterior wall" of Hollingsworth's heart. It is every bit as bad and menacing as it sounds, and a team moved in to fix it right then and there. Months of cardiac rehab followed.

She is certain that her lifestyle change and having shed half a person in weight likely "saved my life" when the heart issue struck. Otherwise, a story on the UT coach probably would have been written within days and would have appeared in another section of the paper.

The repair and rehab didn't end all the challenges, though.

"The doctors told me the No. 1 thing was that I had to avoid stress," Hollingsworth said. "How do you coach without stress?"

Her golf team helped with that. The past fall season was the most successful ever as the Rocket women, with a record scoring average, posted seven top-10 finishes and won three straight tournaments, including the strong Pat Bradley Invitational in Sarasota.

Plus, standout Sathika Ruenreong was medalist at Michigan State's prestigious annual tournament. Hollingsworth called both the Pat Bradley team title and Ruenreong's individual win the biggest in school history.

All the while, the golfers were getting it done in the classroom too. UT recently announced that the team's 3.714 grade-point average for the fall semester was the highest by any team in any semester in school history. And it was accomplished by an eight-player squad that includes five foreign-born members for whom English is not a first language.

"That was icing on the cake," Hollingsworth said. "I'm so proud of them. Hey, when it's going good it's going good."

Hollingsworth is in her 12th season at UT after serving as head coach at both Ohio and Kansas. She has guided the Rockets to 26 tournament wins and four straight top-three finishes in MAC tourney play. In 18 years of coaching, her teams have failed to compile at least a 3.0 GPA exactly once. This is the third time her golfers have led all UT teams academically during a semester.

All in all, a great success story. And it's nice she was around to enjoy the latest and best chapter.

This article was written by Dave Hackenberg from The Blade and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.