Virtual Academic Center student Eric Hollen was tending his horse farm about 10 years ago when his tractor tipped over, pinning him. He spent five months in a hospital being treated for the dislocation of his third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, a ruptured diaphragm, a broken pelvis and a torn aorta.
Hollen said an important step in his healing process was finding a way to move past his injuries so he could get on with his life.
“I was able to shift paradigms ⎯from that of disability to ability ⎯through sport and then through academics,” he said.
Though in a wheelchair, Hollen focused his energies on a sport he was long familiar with: shooting. He currently lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he is training to compete in the 2012 Paralympics in London this summer in the 10-meter air pistol and 50-meter pistol events.
Hollen’s father was a police officer, so guns have never been foreign to him. In 1991, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and became an Army Ranger in the 10th Special Forces Group.
Now Hollen spends three to four hours daily shooting and is in the gym for two hours, five days a week. His events require shooters to fire 60 shots within a set time limit.
Hollen compares shooting to golf.
“It takes a quiet mind and a ton of determination to stay on task,” he noted. “It’s very difficult to be able to focus 100 percent of your ability throughout the entire match.”
Hollen has made large strides in his shooting career. In 2010, he was named USA Shooting’s Paralympic Athlete of the Year. He won medals at the 2008 Hessenpokal Championships, and at the 2009 and 2010 International Paralympic Committee World Cups. In 2011, he took home gold at the IPC Approved Competition USA.
“My injury has provided me with so many opportunities that I would not trade it for the world,” he said. “I hope to be able to inspire others to find their Olympic effort.”
Hollen earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from East Tennessee State University. He enrolled in the MSW@USC program in the spring of 2011. He praises the versatility the program offers to its Web-based students.
“I needed a distance learning program because not only am I an athlete but a father, too,” he said. “I had to have a flexible program that I could take with me, meaning I could log in in a different country [during shooting competition season] and be able to participate in class.”
Hollen’s ultimate goal is to work with disabled veterans and their families. He said he wants to inspire optimism in those veterans who are overcoming injuries.
“After my own injury, I was given a second chance to chase a dream,” Hollen said. “Life is about giving it your best even on your worst day.”