Michigan's Ziyah Holman hopes furious finish inspires others to never give up
It was all-out and breathtaking as Michigan freshman Ziyah Holman, handed the baton with her team trailing by a four-second deficit, ran her final two laps of the 4x400-meter relay with one goal, one focus.
Holman, 18, made her debut in the Simmons-Harvey Invitational last Saturday at Michigan’s Indoor Track Building, winning the 600 meters in 1:29.27, a Michigan first-year record and No. 3 on the program’s all-time list. But it was her come-from-behind run in the relay captured in a video clip that has gone viral on social media and has been featured in a number of national publications, websites and platforms, that has proven inspiring to many.
The relay is always the final event, so her approach was to give everything she had left and told herself she didn’t care if her “legs fall off.”
“At first I was like, ‘OK, let’s just sprint until you tire out and see how close you can get to them,’” Holman said Thursday during a Zoom interview. “Once I passed the first girl I was like, ‘Well now I’m in second, second’s OK, but keep trying.’
“I know she was really far in front of me. I remember on the backstretch using that curve to propel off and I was like, ‘OK, now you’re almost there. When we started coming around the curve, I knew that she was so close, I couldn’t not catch her.”
She ran her 400 meters in 51.79, lifting the Michigan relay team to the win by nearly a half second in 3:48.02. Holman said she was so “zoned in” during the race she heard only the voice of her coach, James Henry. Later, when she saw the finish, she finally heard the support from her teammates.
The clip of Holman erasing the four-second deficit and passing two runners in the anchor leg was posted Monday on Twitter by the Michigan Athletics account. It quickly picked up steam and by Thursday the clip has nearly 4 million views. It has appeared on ESPN’s social media platforms, including SportsCenter with the message: “Reminder: Never. Give. Up.” ABC News shared the performance, CBS News was expected to air a segment about the race, and legendary tennis champion and women’s rights activist Billie Jean King on Thursday also posted Holman’s finish with an inspiring message.
Beginning last year, Holman said she felt it more important to put herself on a platform and to lead by example. She has been inspired by vice president Kamala Harris and wants to inspire young minority track runners to never give up. Holman has found through her video clip that her reach went beyond what she could have expected.
“People saw the video and were brought to tears because you can really apply this to every aspect of your life,” she said. “So that was really important to me, to inspire people to never give up.”
Holman, who is from Maryland and attended Georgetown Day School, already had been invited to run the 4x400 meters in the upcoming Olympic trials and hopes to make the team. She wants to become a lawyer, but her more immediate plan is to start a YouTube channel to share Michigan track highlights and her health and beauty tips.
Not surprisingly, she has been overwhelmed this week by phone calls and text messages, and messages on different social media. Among the more memorable was a direct message from Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit who is married to tennis great Serena Williams.
“I was just like, ‘Hold on, am I seeing this correctly?’” Holman said. “I checked the page and I saw Olympia, their daughter, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is them.’”
Holman thanked Ohanian for his message and asked him to “please tell Ms. Williams love her. She’s such an inspiration.”
“Two hours later, they said, ‘Keep up the great work, we’ll be cheering for you at the Olympics,’ so that was crazy,” she said.
Michigan football early enrollees began classes on Tuesday, as did all UM students. They live in South Quad, as does Holman.
“I was eating my dinner, there was this long line of football players,” Holman said, laughing as she showed how they all turned their heads to stare at her, “’Oh my God, it’s her.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you guys looking at?”
When she arrived at her first practice after the invitational, her teammates happily informed her how “famous” she had become. At COVID-19 testing on Monday, people immediately recognized her, and men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard was there and congratulated her on the performance.
“It was like, ‘Oh my goodness, everyone saw this video,’” she said, laughing
Holman was an only child until her 5-year-old twin siblings were born, and admittedly enjoyed the spotlight for all those years. She enjoys it now, too, but is determined not to let everything that’s happened the past week get to her head.
“I know it’s going to slow down at some point, but I’m still going to have a lot of followers and people requesting things, and you have to remember social media isn’t everything,” Holman said. “But also using this to my advantage if that means with the whole legislation about Name Image and Likeness and stuff of that nature you see how I can use this to my advantage in the future. School always comes first, track always come first. Can’t get a big head. Everything you do has to be done correctly and nicely.”
And in Holman's case, as fast as possible.