Most athletes want to be recognized and stick out in a crowd, but MonTayla Holder’s motive for publicity is complex.
The University of Iowa junior is on a delicate journey that began when she was eight months old. Holder was born Feb. 7, 1994; on Oct. 25 of that year, her world changed.
“My father went missing,” Holder said.
Holder’s father, MonTerrio, was last seen that October day in the 300 block of west 26th Street in his hometown of Indianapolis. He has not been heard from since. MonTerrio’s beige and brown 1981 Buick LeSabre was discovered abandoned sometime in 1995. There was no sign of Holder at the scene and the case remains unsolved.
Courtesy Hawkeye Athletics/Darren Miller
“I think I run because something tells me if he is not hurt, then he might come back,” MonTayla said. “He has a lot of impact on me; I want my name to get out there and that’s really why I keep running.”
A high jumper in college, MonTerrio cleared 7-feet 5 ¾-inches and briefly held the school record at the University of Tennessee. That is what motivated MonTayla to give track and field a try, even though she has no recollection of her father and her childhood dream was to be a singer and dancer.
“I started off as a high jumper in middle school,” Holder said. “But I’m 5-foot-4, so I never really had a career in it. Then my coach threw me in a 400 and since then, I have been running the 400.”
She has sprinkled in hurdles and a baton, too. After two seasons on the Hawkeye roster, Holder is already a Big Ten champion, running third leg on the winning 4×100-meter relay team in 2014. That unit placed 16th in the NCAA Finals, earning second-team All-America honors. Holder was 23rd in the 400 hurdles at the same NCAA Championships, adding an honorable mention All-America accolade.
“I didn’t make it to that final (in the 400 hurdles),” Holder said. “I wasn’t top 16 and that really hurt, because I knew I had the potential to do it. I want that title to be next to my name and I also want it to be next to my teammates’ name.”
More importantly, Holder wants to keep her name in the news, and not in an arrogant way. MonTayla smiles when thinking about the father she never knew.
“My mom named me Brianna and my dad changed it on the birth certificate to MonTayla,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t know where his name came from and my name is just a spin-off of it. My sister’s name is MonToya.”
Holder’s paternal grandparents are significantly involved in her life. They frequently recite for MonTayla affectionate “your father did this, your father did that” tales. Albeit difficult, life has moved on since the fateful October day in 1994.
“It has been 21 years, so we say deceased, but we don’t know,” MonTayla said. “His case is still open. My freshman year (of college) there was an investigation going on. Someone in the Indianapolis jails remembered something about his case and said something. We don’t know exactly where it stands, but we know he is missing. That’s all I really know about it.”
So Holder continues to run. She runs fast. She hopes by keeping the Holder name in the news that someday she will be re-introduced to what should be her biggest fan.
And while Holder runs in hope of seeing her father, she also runs for teammates.
“These girls on this team deserve to be among those top competitors,” Holder said. “We deserve to be up there with the big girls and the big-time runners, so when I’m under pressure, I think about what can I do for my team and how can I give my team 10 points or eight points — whatever we need to be a Big Ten championship team. The pressure makes me run fast.”
Holder graduated from Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, where she was a two-time state champion in the 400. With an open 400 personal best time of 55.2 seconds, Holder thought her future would be at a mid-major university.
“I was aiming for (Mid-American Conference) schools and smaller schools, so being here and then competing at the high level and making it to the Division I national championships has been very humbling,” Holder said. “I never saw myself making it this far.”
University of Iowa associate head coach Clive Roberts uncovered a diamond in the rough. He sees Holder’s consistent training and results as an indication of imminent breakthrough performances.
“When we recruited her, she was a versatile athlete,” Roberts said. “She had done the 100 meter hurdles and 300 meter hurdles and run the 400. We thought she would be able to come in and help us right off the bat.
“She separates herself with her work ethic. Day in and day out she comes to work and it’s hard to pull her off the track. The difficulty with MonTayla isn’t getting her to work, it’s to get her to rest. There may be kids that are more talented, but I don’t know if many can say they are a harder worker than MonTayla. She clocks in and goes to it every day to try to get it better.”
At the 2015 Big Ten Indoor Championships, Holder placed fifth in the 4×400 relay and seventh in the 600 dash. She has seven top eight finishes at five conference indoor and outdoor meets. Holder admits that the 2014 NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, caught her off guard. She won’t let that happen again.
“I would love to make it back to the NCAA Championships. Last year it took me by a huge surprise, this year it is like ‘Now you have to make it,'” Holder said. “As a team I would like our 4×4 to make it to the NCAA Championship. Last year we were the last team out and it broke our hearts.”
In the meantime, Holder continues to do what it takes on the track to keep her name in the news. That’s what really keeps her running.