Paralympic sprint sensation Isis Holt has today announced her retirement from competitive athletics after a career which saw her win five Paralympic medals, four world titles and Commonwealth Games gold.
One of the world’s leading T35 sprinters who shattered nine world records throughout her career, 21-year-old Holt will now turn her attention to her next chapter as she pursues a career in psychology – a vocation deeply influenced by her time as an elite athlete.
“I’m really excited to explore what my career could look like out of sport. Psychology has always been something that I’ve been fascinated by and that comes from the mental toughness and resilience that has a huge place in sport,” Holt said.
“Having been put onto High Performance teams at the age of 14, I had to grow up quickly and learn those skills of being able to be resilient, go with the flow and essentially, build my mental toolbox. When I was younger, there was this internal struggle where I felt like I did such grown up things like race for Australia, and then I would come back to school and my friends wouldn’t get it. That pushed me to work with my own psychologist to help find the balance and now I find myself loving the study of it.”
Labelled a prodigious talent from her early days in athletics, Holt began her career as a 12-year-old school student and under the tutelage of Nick Wall, she quickly cemented her place among the world’s best when breaking the 200m T35 world record in Brisbane in 2015. Later that year at only 14, she shaved almost one second off her record at the 2015 World Para Athletics Championships in Doha and took the 100m world record down to win the sprint double. It was there that Holt became Australia’s youngest ever individual event World Para Athletics champion.
Her gold medal victories, and the 100m world record were a feat she repeated two years later at the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championship, all while still a teenager.
At her Paralympic debut in Rio, Holt secured medals in each of the three events she competed in, winning silver in the 100m and 200m T35, and together with her compatriots Ella Pardy, Jodi Elkington-Jones and Erin Cleaver, crossed the line third in the 4x100m relay. At the 2018 Commonwealth Games trials, Holt lowered her 100m record again before claiming gold in front of a roaring home crowd.
Holt, who lives with cerebral palsy, took an 18-month break from athletics to finish high school before returning to the sport in 2020 under the guidance of Brisbane-based coach Paul Pearce. While the gold medal eluded her at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021, the Melbourne-native broke the previous 100m T35 world record with a blistering 13.13 second run, only to be beaten by China’s Zhou Xia who ran 13.00.
Despite her young age, the university student credits the life experienced gained as an athlete for preparing her for this next stage of her life.
“I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be a Paralympian, but I definitely felt I had very big shoes to fill when I found myself there, and it was a learning curve for me for the first few years,” Holt said.
“After a break, I came back to the track with a different perspective. As much as I was chasing gold and the world records, I wanted to feel like I could run the best race I could run. I knew I wasn’t going to stop until I felt that, and after my 100m in Tokyo, I realised I was at peace with what I had done. It was a starting point about reflection and what satisfaction meant to me.”
Holt expressed her gratitude to her support network, including her coaches Wall and Pearce, and her parents who helped instil the belief that she could achieve anything she set her mind to.
“I want to thank Nick Wall, my first ever coach. He was the person who told me that this world of para sport existed. He turned a 14-year-old who hadn’t really run into a world record holder and a first-time Paralympian at 15,” she said.
“I can’t thank Paul enough for how he supported me over the past two and a half years. He started coaching me via Zoom while I was still in Melbourne and it took trust and consistency from both of us. He is also the reason why I was able to do as well as I did in Tokyo, and has helped given me confidence to make decisions as both an athlete and a person.”
“And of course, my Mum and Dad who have been supportive in whatever I choose to do. Mum drove me to training, Dad moved with me to Brisbane when I decided to move, and both did everything to help me be the best athlete I could be.”
Holt also went on to thank Athletics Australia as well as the Victorian Institute of Sport, Queensland Academy of Sport and her university, Queensland University of Technology.
“I, of course also had so much support from Athletics Australia. They gave me the flexibility to be able to take a break from the sport when I needed to. Not enough people or organisations acknowledge the importance of allowing the chance for mental growth but it was crucial to me as an athlete and as a person,” Holt said.
“The VIS and the QAS both showed me a lot of patience around the work that we did together, I am forever grateful. QUT have also been a huge support during my time in Brisbane. Being part of their Elite Athlete Scholarship was a huge help in supporting me to achieve the things I did both as a student and as an athlete.”
Athletics Australia Chief Executive Peter Bromley congratulated Holt on her record-breaking career and sealing her place in Australian track and field folklore at such a young age.
“It’s been a privilege to watch Isis become one of the world’s greatest Paralympic sprinters and see her excel both personally and professionally,” Bromley said.
“Since making her international debut at the age of 14 at the 2015 World Para Athletics Championships, Isis has shown commitment and dedication to her craft and her growth as an athlete has influenced many young sprinters to pursue their goals. I’d like to congratulate Isis on her achievements and wish her all the very best in her future endeavours.”
Athletics Australia General Manager, High Performance Andrew Faichney echoed Bromley’s comments, having worked with the four-time world champion from the infancy of her career.
“Isis has been nothing short of remarkable to work with as both an athlete and a person. It’s been fantastic to see her rise and while we will feel her absence on our teams, we support her in her decision to finish with such satisfaction,” Faichney said.
“On behalf of Athletics Australia’s High Performance department, I want to wish her the very best for her pursuit in psychology and we hope we see her back around the track one day, whether that’s in supporting our future talent or as an ambassador for the sport.”
Isis Holt OAM – a career snapshot:
Silver – 100m T35
Silver – 200m T35
Bronze – 4x100m T35-38
Silver – 100 T35
Silver – 200m T35
World Para Athletics Championships:
Gold - 100m T34
Gold – 200m T34
Gold – 100m T35
Gold – 200m T35
Gold Coast 2018:
Gold - 100m T35