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During American Heart Month, Mick Holmes’ story is a reminder

February 13, 2019

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Terry Frei

  

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 Mick Holmes (Michael Brian photo) 

Mick Holmes, who now is 70 and for more than a half-century has been a familiar figure on the Greeley football scene, last November thought he was doing a lot of things correctly.

He ate right. Mostly. “But I do love sugar, I’ve got to admit to that vice,” he said with a smile Monday in an office at Greeley’s Dayspring Christian Academy.

He worked out — with a vengeance.

“I’ve always been an exercise maniac,” he said. “I’ve either lifted or jogged, played a lot of racquetball in the early days. My knees started bothering me so I quit playing racquetball, but I kept jogging until my knees started bothering me jogging.

“Lifting, I’ve had four shoulder surgeries because I think I’m a macho man and I lift way too much weight, so I’ve had everything — rotator (cuff), labrum, all kinds of different things. But I’ve always worked out.”

He kept his weight down.

He didn’t drink or smoke.

“And don’t run around with people who do … very much,” he said.

A member of the University of Northern Colorado’s athletic Hall of Fame as a star halfback-receiver from 1966-69, and then a long-time high school head coach in the area, Holmes had enjoyed being back on the sidelines during the 2018 season.

That’s when he returned for another stint as coach of Class A 8-man football’s Dayspring Christian Academy Eagles. He had sat out the 2016 and ’17 seasons. He came back and when the Eagles went 4-5, he was gratified that they had rebounded from a slow start and the older players told him they had a fun year.

But on Nov. 13, something went wrong. Very, very wrong. He’d had a physical exam every year, but not a stress test and never felt symptoms of a heart issue.

“I’d just gotten through working out,” he said.

That meant a heavy workout at the west branch of Greeley Family FunPlex. His usual was sets of pushups and other exercises, and using a StairMaster, elliptical machine or exercise bike.

“I worked out really pretty hard and I ended up talking to a guy in the parking lot for about 10 minutes,” he said. “I got in my Jeep and started to feel a little dizzy and got home and started throwing up for about 25 minutes or so. After about 15 minutes of that, my chest started hurting and both shoulders started hurting.”

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 Dayspring Christian Academy head coach Mick Holmes celebrates his team’s victory over Merino in the Class 1A 8-man Football Championships in 2008 in Greeley. 

His wife, Gail, called 911.

The ambulance paramedic later told Holmes his heart rate had dropped to 28 beats per minute. He was still nauseated when he arrived at North Colorado Medical Center. After about two hours, his cardiac Troponin levels in his blood were alarming. Tests at the Cardio-Vascular Institute eventually showed that he had a 70 percent blockage in the “widow maker” artery.

He had triple bypass surgery on Nov. 15. He was in the hospital for nine days. He resumed teaching after the New Year. He resigned as football coach (again) but is teaching a study hall, and classes in physical education, weight training and health.

“The surgeon said that 33 percent of all people who have this sort of blockage, to that degree in this artery, die on the spot,” Holmes said. “But he said my heart was a young heart. I just had bad plumbing from genetic things from my dad and my grandpa. My dad had quintuple bypass surgery and a defibrillator. He died of heart disease. He was 89. … He quit smoking and all kinds of stuff when he had his first heart attack. He had two major heart attacks and he flatlined one time. We had a fire station a block from the house and they got there right away and zapped him back to life.

“This shocked my whole family because they know I work out and work out hard.”

His brothers, Jim and Ron, have been getting checked, now, too.

This recovery has been unique and a bit frustrating for Holmes.

“It’s not a linear recovery program,” he said. “It’s more like a foxtrot. You have two great days and then one really, really bad day. Or two great weeks and one really bad week. They told me I’m not going to feel normal until May or June. But I’m feeling a lot better now, I have a lot more energy and I’m back teaching school.”

He has resumed working out, both at NCMC and at FunPlex. At NCMC, the program comes with classes and briefings about diet, including salt and sugar; medications, including blood thinners and blood pressure drugs; and other issues, including stress and possible depression.

“I get in trouble all the time at the cardio rehab place,” he said. “I go there Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I got in trouble last week because I didn’t like walking on the treadmill and flattened it and started jogging on it. My heart rate went above 150 and they all hollered at me.”

He said he hopes to be back to his full routine by May.

“I just have to be patient,” he said. “That’s the biggest problem, being patient with it.”

Holmes was raised in Denver, attending Abraham Lincoln High School, and came to Greeley to play at Colorado State College for renowned head football coach Bob Blasi. The 1969 Bears, then in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, went 10-0 for the school’s only undefeated season.

After graduation, Holmes taught and coached two years in Platteville, then went into Greeley-Evans School District 6 for the rest of his public school career. He was at Greeley Central High School, Heath Middle School and at Greeley West High School.

Holmes first was at Dayspring as head coach and athletic director in 1994-95, when he still also was teaching at Greeley West. He gave up the AD title and stayed on as football coach through 1999. He returned to coach at Greeley West for five years before retiring from the school system in 2005 and returning to Dayspring in 2006. The first time, he coached the Eagles through 2015, and they went to the state title game five times in 10 seasons. He took two years off and then returned to the position for 2018.

He’s content to stay away from coaching. Well, at least for now. And with being a walking example of the idea that you can take care of yourself, but still can be a candidate for heart issues. That’s true for women, too, considering 72-year-old actress Susan Lucci’s recent disclosure that she was found to have two blocked arteries — one 90 percent and one 75 percent. She didn’t have bypass surgery, but stents were inserted.

“If you have genetic factors related to your dad and your uncles and your grandpa, you better get tested,” Holmes said. “Now. And I don’t care if you’re 45 or 50. That’s one. If you have bad plumbing, like I inherited from my dad, and my brothers have bad plumbing … get tested. Right now. It’s well worth it.

“It’s easier if you get a stent than if you have open heart surgery. You don’t want to go that far. … It’s preventable. That’s the thing. Don’t be a stubborn jackass and say, ‘Well, it never will happen to me.’ That’s exactly what I thought because I was in really good shape. Poppycock and balderdash, it can happen to anybody.”