Crash victim sets her sights on 2012 Paralympic Games in London
By BRIAN WALLHEIMER
While driving along a wet, winding state Route 39 in Monrovia, Ind., one night in May, Kendra Lancaster (BS '10) glanced down at the radio or out the window – she doesn't remember which – just for a second.
It was that one second, maybe less, that would play one of the most significant roles in her life, one that would threaten not only her life but her dreams as well.
During that second, the graduate student in Agricultural Communication from Westfield, Ind., could count among her accomplishments bronze and silver medals in sitting volleyball as part of the U.S. Paralympic Team. During that one moment, she had no reason to believe she – as the newly named captain – and her team wouldn't face off in London during the 2012 games against the Chinese team that had kept it from winning the gold three years earlier and a world championship a year before.
The world championship was the closest Lancaster and her teammates had been to taking down the vaunted Chinese team. Nerves might have gotten the best of the Americans, who settled for second again.
"It was still a decent match," said Lancaster, who was born without a left forearm and hand. "But we lost in three sets. The rest of the tournament was really the highlight for us."
Now, here she was, working toward a master's degree and heading to Danville to help with the 4–H state horse judging competition. After that second of taking her eyes off the road, Lancaster realized she had drifted into the wrong lane. She saw a car coming around a curve and slammed on the brakes. But it had been raining. Neither car had a chance of stopping. The crash was head–on.
Purdue's Kendra Lancaster (fourth from the left) is the captain of the U.S. Paralympics sitting volleyball squad gunning for a gold medal this summer in London.
Lying in the intensive care unit of a hospital, Lancaster had a broken wrist and lacerations to her spleen, liver and chin. And there was pain in her knee, but that was the least of the injuries.
She was out of the hospital after six days, but complications with her liver sent her back to the hospital for several days. Looking back, she said she was lucky finals had just ended and her studies weren't disrupted. But then she remembered just how bad those injuries were.
Truth be told, she was lucky to be alive.
"I sometimes forget that," she said.
For the time being, Lancaster was focused on recovering from her injuries. She had done the math: It was spring (2011). She should be healed by the end of the year. The London games, slated to begin in August 2012 and continue into September, were still more than a year away. There was time. She would be able to compete.
"For the first month, I had bigger things to think about besides volleyball," Lancaster said. "That could wait until I was healed."
That's when she found out that one of the least threatening of her injuries, that nagging knee pain, was the one that might derail her Paralympic dream. That pain was a torn ACL, and the surgeon wouldn't repair it until her other injuries were healed, maybe in December.
Quick math again: December surgery. Seven to eight months of recovery before she could train. There was not enough time. There would be no gold medal, at least not for her.
"It kind of ripped my heart out a little," Lancaster said. "I don't even know how to describe it. There was just this panic. Everything I had been working for the last eight years had been for that gold medal. There was this panic that after all I had worked for, I wouldn't be there."