Holesa

Virginia Tech’s Nick Holesa, originally from Huntingdon, stands on base and removes protective equipment during a recent game.

Huntingdon native Nick Holesa has appeared in 34 of Virginia Tech’s 44 games this season, including making 23 starts. The Hokies are currently ranked fifth in the nation.

The fact that Holesa is still playing college baseball at all is probably an unlikely surprise to those that have been around him for the past year.

Holesa, a redshirt junior at Virginia Tech, was diagnosed with a rare disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome last summer. The syndrome affected him with even some of the basics of life such as walking and eating.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is described on mayoclinic.org as a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves.

His illness started in the second half of last summer, which Holesa was spending playing summer ball in Maryland. The process of him realizing something was wrong was a little drawn out.

“I was sweating really bad at night and I wouldn’t sleep,” said Holesa. “About a week later, I just started to feel different and kind of uncoordinated and not like myself. I feel like I’m very in tune with my body and I can feel when things are wrong. I was telling my mom about that, and she said ‘Maybe you’re just tired.’ I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. I played it off.”

A few days later, Holesa had back pain and was unable to touch his toes. The next day, he didn’t have any feeling in his hands or feet. He had thought that he had a couple certain injuries such as a slipped disc in his back or a pinched nerve.

“I was in a lot of pain,” he said. “I could barely walk up and down stairs. That’s when I called my mom from Maryland and said, ‘I need you to come and get me. I can’t drive.’”

Nick’s mother, Dawn Holesa, picked him up in Maryland and drove Nick back to Blacksburg, Va., the home of Virginia Tech. When they got into Blacksburg, Dawn asked her son if he wants to go to the emergency room, but Nick declined and decided to go to sleep because he was so tired and wanted to see if he got better in the morning.

“I woke up the next morning and I was numb from my elbows down and my knees down, and the inside of my mouth and throat were numb,” said Nick. “That’s when I said ‘Something is not right. I need to go to the hospital.’”

When arriving at the hospital, Nick had many x-rays and MRIs done, but it was a spinal tap that was able to diagnose the syndrome.

“He couldn’t walk without assistance when he arrived at the hospital,” said Dawn Holesa. “When he left the hospital, he was using a cane. He was in intensive care for four or five days.”

But the illness didn’t just stop at his walking abilities. He also couldn’t eat much, which resulted in Nick losing 45 pounds.

“His tongue was numb. It was hard for him to eat,” said Dawn Holesa. “It changed the way everything tasted to him. Even to this day, there’s still some issues with that. He eats and he’s working very hard at gaining weight. He’s gained a lot of it back, but not all of it. He’s still down a good 20 pounds from where he had been.”

Nick’s treatments consisted of getting an IV for a long period of time. When he left the hospital, he would have to get the treatment at the UVA Hospital once a month. It then went to every six weeks, and Nick currently receives treatment every eight weeks. His last scheduled treatment is next month.

Holesa did what he could through fall baseball practice, but he had lost a lot of his strength and he could not run until around the turn of the new year. He said he had been running like Forrest Gump prior to that.

Other than the Guillain-Barre syndrome, Nick has had quite a few setbacks throughout his baseball journey. Along with the GBS, Nick also had a bout with Bell’s palsy, and prior to getting sick, he also had a bout with Covid.

And then there was his share of baseball injuries over the years. Holesa has had Tommy John surgery twice, and he’s also had a torn labrum in his shoulder and another in his hip. He sat out the 2020 season due to one of the Tommy John surgeries and the hip surgery, but that season was cut short in March to the pandemic anyway.

And he has grinded through all of it because of his love for baseball.

“I’ve grown up around baseball all my life,” said Nick. “My cousins played baseball. It’s kind of what our family revolved around. All summer long was just baseball-related things. When it wasn’t, I was getting ready for baseball season. It was always a special thing that kept our family close. It just kept me going and I pushed through rehab to get better.”

“He’s a fighter. He just doesn’t quit,” said Dawn. “He works hard. He puts his mind to it and that’s what he does. He was just trying to stay healthy so he could get back.”

Holesa, who graduated from Huntingdon in 2018, is hitting .212 on the season with one home run and nine RBIs while playing first base with the Hokies. He has another year of eligibility with Virginia Tech and will also graduate next year.

Recently, Holesa was honored with the strength and conditioning award for Virginia Tech’s baseball team at the Golden Gobblers, which is the university’s awards ceremony for athletic achievements. A strength and conditioning award is given out to every sport at Virginia Tech.

“We’re so proud of him,” said Dawn. “He’s bounced back so many times. His resilience and perseverance, and really just his love for baseball is what keeps him going. He loves to play, and it’s been like that since he could pick up a ball or a bat.”

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