Volleyball Coach Kerry Carr: Learning and Teaching Life Lessons

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Media Contact:Jeanne Leong | jleong@upenn.edu | 215-573-8151October 26, 2012

University of Pennsylvania women’s volleyball coach Kerry Carr can draw from personal experience when she instructs her team on playing the game or when guiding students in handling school or life issues.

As a volleyball star for the College of William and Mary in 1987-90, Carr has traveled a similar road as the women on the Quaker team.

And, when a student’s mother has suffered breast cancer, she has supported them, by sharing her story and giving them hope. That is also a road she has traveled.

In September of 2008, Carr was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after the start of the volleyball season. Her doctor suggested that she be treated immediately, but Carr, who describes her life during the season as being focused entirely on her team, wanted to wait until the season ended in mid-November before getting treatment.

But, Carr’s family and her colleagues convinced her to attend to her health first. At the time, her children were 4 and 5 years old.

“We kind of get caught up in the wins and losses of the season, and it’s important to remember what’s really important -— your health and your family,” Carr says. 

The disease was caught early, and, after a bilateral mastectomy, she was back working at Penn in about three months.

“We were all consumed with the season at that point, and it put everything in perspective for everyone involved,” Carr says. “And it got me started on a healthier lifestyle.”

In addition to coaching, she’s a member of the Philadelphia Flying Phoenix Dragon Boat team. It started out as physical therapy following her surgery, when a Penn colleague suggested it to her because his wife took up the sport after her breast-cancer surgery.

“It’s upper-body movement and a core muscle builder,” says Carr. “It gets the people who’ve had the surgery back into shape because the doctors do take muscle in your body and put it in other places.”

The dragon boat racing helped her regain her strength and boost her spirits.

“It was good to know that I could be athletic again. There’s always a question when you have major surgery, will you be able to be the athlete you once were?”

Through the dragon-boat racing, Carr is a competitive athlete again. She’s part of the group on the Flying Phoenix team called Against The Wind, which is made up of 30 breast-cancer survivors who paddle their boat on the Schuylkill River a couple of times a week.

“It’s a way to have group therapy. This is a way to deal with my cancer in a positive manner,” Carr says.

Carr says having breast cancer has made her stronger physically and mentally. She passes on her strength both on the volleyball court and in the water, when she and 19 dragon-boating teammates are paddling in the Schuylkill or when they’re competing nationally or internationally.

Her illness has helped her deal with students’ issues and help inspire them through her pep talks.

“You need to come to practice, you need to work through this because it will help you with your injury or dealing with a stressful event, and being an athlete helps you with that and helps you come back from that.” 

She and her dragon-boat team won a gold medal in 2010 in the national dragon-boat competition in Tennessee. And in 2014, Carr and her teammates plan to compete in the world competition in Italy.