PHILADELPHIA -- Cancer is a word that is frightening to hear. For Kenneth L. Gross head volleyball coach Kerry Carr, cancer became a very real concern in 2008. In October, Carr announced to her volleyball team she would be taking a leave of absence for the remainder of the season to battle the cancer, which was detected early enough.
After Carr’s bout with breast cancer, Pete Zeitz emailed Carr and encouraged her to come out for the team. Zeitz, whose wife is on Carr’s dragon boat team, worked at Penn and knew Carr was an athlete. To keep away from lymphedema, Carr decided to start dragon boating as a form of physical therapy.
Carr not only joined one team but two teams in 2009: Premier and Against the Wind.
“Both crews are very different,” said Carr. “I'm very competitive so competing for one of the top 20 seats for the best dragon boat team in the country (and possibly the world) has been a dream of mine that I, of course, wanted to be selected to this Premier crew.”
The Against the Wind team is a different and special team; it is the breast cancer survivor crew, which is how Carr originally got into the sport.
“This crew holds a special place in my heart,” Carr said. “It's amazing to be paddling next to women of all ages -- the oldest is 70+ -- and be reminded of everyday of how strong people can be when faced with cancer, to not only overcome it, but then continue to get stronger than we have ever been in our lives. When the Against the Wind crew is racing, we draw from an inner strength that not many other crews have, and that is truly special to me.” One of Carr’s favorite moments was when she witnessed a grandmother of seven out lifting her volleyball players maxes.
Carr considers the members of her teams a family, who have helped make her a better person, teammate, athlete, and coach. Both teams have accomplished a lot in the four years she has been dragon boating, and Carr says she’s in the best shape of her life.
Three years ago, Carr’s Premier team was one of the top five teams in the nation but are now entering the Club Crew National Dragon Boat Championship as the top team. If the team wins gold when competing this weekend, September 13-15, they qualify for a berth to Ravenna, Italy to compete in the 2014 Club Crew World Championships. If a gold win ensues, Carr will only be able to join it it’s in July.
“To be able to go would be amazing, but if it conflicts with volleyball season in August, my priority is with the Penn volleyball team,” said Carr. “I am so lucky to not only be the coach of a good volleyball team, but also to be a "player" on another team, because that perspective from the other side helps me be a better coach. I am constantly using what I learn about being part of a team in my Penn Volleyball practices.”This weekend will prove if all of the 5 a.m. practices, Sunday morning lifts, and hours of training will pay off with a gold medal for Carr and her dragon boat team.