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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (May 16, 2012) - This weekend the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team will get together for one of its last camps before jetting to London for the 2012 Paralympic Games. Not only does this mark just three months away from the team’s gold-medal attempt, it also marks the return of Team Captain, Kendra Lancaster (Westfield, Ind.).
It has been a year since the sitting volleyball standout has been able to compete with her team after a car accident left the captain in critical condition.
“Are you ready for the list,” Lancaster, 25, joked before listing her injuries. “I had a Grade IV laceration to my liver, Grade I laceration to my spleen, a two inch laceration of my chin that cut my lip through completely, a laceration and bone bruising on my left knee, a scaphoid fracture on my right (and only) wrist, and the daddy of them all, a torn ACL in my right knee, the bane of my existence.”
The injuries were serious and in the beginning life-threatening. Lancaster was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for a week before being sent home. After her return home, she was readmitted to the trauma ward due to fluid buildup in her liver. After another 10 days and a handful of surgeries, she was once again cleared to head home.
“She’s come a long way from where she was but I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Team Coordinator Elliot Blake said. “She has done an incredible job of taking care of herself and of the team by coming to camps and serving as their captain the entire time.”
Photo: kendra Lancaster Born without a left arm, Lancaster began her career with the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team at age 16 in 2004 and is a two-time Paralympic medalist, winning bronze at the 2004 Athens Games and silver at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Throughout her injuries, the goal has been clear: gold.
“I want my team to focus on our goal of the gold medal and that means that everything each of us does at this point in the journey affects that,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster was also a member of the team that finished second at the 2010 Sitting Volleyball World Championships at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, where the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Sitting Teams are also based. She was named team captain at the beginning of the 2011 season.
“We walked away from Worlds knowing that we had a lot to work on before London,” Lancaster said. “We addressed out weakness, made adjustments and I truly believe that over the past few years we have become a team that the world looks up to.”
The timing of the accident was ironic, as Lancaster was named captain just four weeks prior, a responsibility that no injury could take away from her.
“I had a hard time knowing how to fill that role when I wasn’t around in the beginning,” Lancaster said. “But I tried the best I could with what I was allowed to do. I called coach and my teammates often to see how camps were going. Starting in August I went to every single camp, not to help on the court but to help on the sidelines. That became my motivation.” Photo: Elliot Blake
‘London’ became a word of voodoo that was not spoken about around Lancaster as the reality of the trip started to dwindle when her wounds were not healing as fast as she had hoped.
“There was never any fear of never getting to play again, but here was a serious fear of not being able to play in London,” Lancaster said. “News of my ACL injury really rattled me because I knew what that could spell. I’m a Purdue student, see ‘Robbie Hummel’.
The timing of ACL surgery is crucial for athletes and precise for doctors. It’s like oil and water when the two times don’t match up.
“I couldn’t have the ACL surgery until the tract from my drain healed and it was slow moving at best,” Lancaster said. “My trauma doctor and knee surgeon predicted December, which meant no London, news that absolutely devastated me.”
Then, what Lancaster calls “a little miracle” happened.
“I like to think a little miracle happened after that call because a few days later the wound that had been open for weeks with no sign of closing healed overnight,” Lancaster said. “I honestly woke up with new fresh baby skin. I knew I was going to get to go to London.”
With hope in hand, Lancaster was able to have her surgery the following week and continue her long road to recovery.
“Recovery sucked. End of story,” Lancaster said. “For the first few weeks, it consisted of me healing my broken little body, which means sitting in a recliner relying on everyone else to do everything for me. I can honestly say that was the worst part.”
With her family, boyfriend and friends by her side, the everyday frustrations turned into fuel; driving her to take every single step in the recovery process.
“Kendra is a fighter and I believe her return demonstrates how determined she is to play for the team,” Head Coach Bill Hamiter said. “Her leadership and ability to hold the team accountable and together in our mission to be the best in the world is a major dynamic for the team. We will all benefit from her strength of character, determination, work ethic and leadership ability.”
Recovery forced Lancaster to think about herself first, a foreign idea that her teammates often had to reinforce.
“The worst part has been not being able to be out there with my teammates,” Lancaster said. “My place is with them on the floor and I didn’t like not being allowed there. When things didn’t progress and I started to get impatient, I could always count on my teammates to remind me to take my time and heal. Volleyball will be here when I get back.”
Nothing is set in stone yet, but London is on the horizon for Team USA and Lancaster expects to be part of that roster with the captain’s C on her sleeve.
“Little things can happen that can distract from our mission and I try to minimize those by keeping my outlooks positive and refocusing everyone’s minds on August,” Lancaster said. “That is all that matters right now.”
Adversity is a word that Lancaster knows well but in the case of her car accident, the injuries needed time to heal. And for the first time she had to work back to her full physical abilities.
“My advice to those who are in similar situations is to have a goal, a big final goal with lots of little baby-step goals that will lead you there,” Lancaster said.
It has been a fight both mentally and physically, but the hard work and dedication peaks this weekend as Lancaster will finally join her team as captain on the court.
“I thought May would never come,” Lancaster said. “Now I know all the hard work and pain were worth it. No one ever got better by feeling sorry for themselves and just sitting in a chair.”