Susan Desiree Holland (Desi) was born June 6, 1971, in Cheverly, Maryland. She passed on August 4, 2023, at home in Hyattsville Maryland with her parents and loving caregivers by her bedside. The cause of death was complications related to Alzheimer's.
Desi grew up in Prince George's County Md. and was a longtime resident of the City of Hyattsville. She attended Ardmore Development Center, Lakeland Elementary, Margaret Brent Elementary, Beltsville Elementary and graduated from James E. Duckworth Special Education Center. After graduation Desi worked at the University of Maryland Stamp Student Union and later was a summer camp youth counselor with the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission for 19 years. She was a regular attendee at the First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville. Desi was an early model for the State of Maryland and the nation for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities living independently in their own homes.
Desi's passions were her family, friends, Terps, Orioles and Ravens, music, and the Special Olympics. If you were around Desi, you would most likely be listening to anything Woodstock, 70s and 80s rock & roll to include Hanson, The Doors, and Def Leppard. Tye dye clothing and headbands were Desi's fashion statement.
Special Olympics (SO) defined Desi's life. She was introduced to training and competition by Robert (Bob) Janus who worked closely with Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the early development of SO programs in Maryland. She began competing with Special Olympics Maryland Prince George's County (SOMD PG) in track & field events at age 8. She later focused on swimming and cycling earning hundreds of medals and ribbons. She was one of the first members of the inaugural SOMD PG community-based swimming team and the first member of the SOMD PG community-based cycling team. Desi competed at county, State, National and International levels earning a silver medal in the cycling 5K road race at international games in Shanghai China, and a gold medal in the cycling 10K road race at national games at Princeton New Jersey. Desi competed for 42 years until the Covid pandemic temporarily stopped the events. Desiree also served as one of the early athlete ambassadors for SOMD speaking at community and corporate events, International Law Enforcement Torch Run conferences, lobbying elected officials at the Maryland State legislature, and educating members of the US Congress and Senate on Capitol Hill. Desi was a member of the inaugural SOMD Athlete Congress and the first SOMD Law Enforcement Torch Run Athlete Ambassador.
Desi was also a volunteer and prolific fundraiser to support her fellow athletes. She was a familiar face to law enforcement officers at torch runs carrying the flame of hope, and well known for jumping into the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean and Deep Creek Lake at Polar Bear Plunges, Police Plunges, Super Plunges (24 plunges in 24 Hours), Boardwalk Plunges and Deep Creek Dunks. Over the years she and her partners, Dad and Rick Barton, raised over $250,000 to support SOMD athletes. In 2022 former Governor Larry Hogan presented Desi with the Jimmy Myrick Jr. Governor's Courage Award for her 5-year determined effort to master swimming the butterfly stroke and ultimately winning a gold medal, and for her courage and resilience as she faced Alzheimer's.
Desi is predeceased by her beloved grandfather Ivan Junior (Jack) Holland, grandfather and grandmother, Michael Walker and Jean Gilbert Walker, uncles Vincent (Woody) Spong, and Steve Boyer and cousin Brent Baker.
Desi is survived by her beloved grandmother Audrey Fae Holland, parents Susan (Candy) and Doug Holland, aunts Connie Spong, Sandy Hose (Ed), Angie Boyer and Kristie Baker, uncles Michael Walker Jr. and Clark Walker, tons of cousins nieces and nephews, as well as her Special Olympics, Law Enforcement, Church, lifelong friends, and Hyattsville community families.
Desi could be shy with strangers but once she got to know you had an outgoing personality who lived life to the fullest and inspired others around the world to do the same. She changed perceptions of folks who underestimated the potential of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and awed us with her smile, infectious laughter, determination, and accomplishments. Many times, after Desi spoke at formal presentations or during casual conversations, new parents of a child with an intellectual or developmental disability would approach Desi and her parents and offer four simple, but powerful words; "Desi gives us hope". While her physical presence is no longer with us, her inspiration and genuine love and acceptance of others will live on forever.
In the game of life Desi was faced with an unbeatable opponent called Alzheimer's. She unquestionably approached this challenge with the same determination and indominable spirit she displayed throughout her life, while also upholding the Special Olympics athlete's oath; "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt".
Thank you, Desi for including us in your life. May you forever rest in eternal peace.
If you choose to make a donation, please consider making a donation to SOMD Prince George's in Desiree's honor. Donations can be made online by clicking this link:
If you prefer to donate by check, checks can be made out to:
8801 Ritchie Drive
Capital Heights, Md. 20743