Volley for Gold: Kendra Lancaster
BY DAVE ALLEN - U.S. captain Lancaster hopes to conclude long journey with third Paralympic medal
LONDON – When the United States faces China Friday in the Women’s Sitting Volleyball final at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, U.S. captain Kendra Lancaster
will be looking for gold to complete the perfect set of medals, one which includes a silver in Beijing (2008) and a bronze in Athens (2004). If she gets it, it will be a bittersweet moment for the three-time Paralympian, who’s yet to see the floor in these Games.
Lancaster, a starting outside hitter on the ’04 and ’08 teams, had just been named captain of the U.S. team when tragedy struck. Driving to work one rainy, slick Indiana morning in May of 2011, Lancaster didn’t see the car coming around the corner in her direction. Panicked, she slammed on her brakes and slid into the oncoming vehicle. Because the airbag in her car failed to deploy, the head-on collision nearly cost Lancaster her life. She suffered lacerations of the liver and spleen, several facial lacerations, a fractured wrist, and a torn right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
The torn ACL wasn’t diagnosed until a month or two after the accident. As a result, Lancaster didn’t have surgery on the knee until last fall, raising some doubt over whether she’d recover in time to compete in the London Games. Lancaster didn’t return to the volleyball floor again until three months ago. By then, Team USA coach Bill Hamiter had already settled on his starting lineup for the Games.
“It’s been really different for me, not playing,” said Lancaster, who was born without her left arm. “Serving as captain has been a really great honor for me, which is something new and different as well. But from an athlete’s perspective, it’s hard sitting on the bench and watching the team do well without you, especially since I’ve been playing so much in the past. But knowing that we have the six best possible players out there on the court makes it easier. I’m there to support them any way I can; that’s what I’m here to do. I’m trying to focus on that.”
In many ways, this year’s Paralympic Games has been more special for Lancaster than the others, because of the adversity she’s faced just getting to London. The Paralympic Games have been a part of Lancaster’s life for so long now, it’s become second nature to her. She can’t imagine what her life would be without the Games, which is what pushed her through her rehab.
“It’s been a really long road but London was my goal,” said Lancaster. “It’s really what drove me to get better. That sounds kind of cheesy, but it was that goal of getting better and being able to play again that made me do my rehab.”
Before her accident, Lancaster was pretty sure that this would be her last Paralympic Games. But the accident changed her perspective on retiring, and now she hopes to be competing for Team USA again in Rio in 2016.
“I don’t want to make any promises, it’s four years away,” said Lancaster. “But it’s something I’ve always been really proud to be a part of. It’s been part of my life for the last eight years, so it’s hard to imagine my life without this team. It means a lot to me, being able to wear USA, represent your country, and do something that makes you very proud.”