Going for gold
Carmel native and Westfield grad Kendra Lancaster talks about preparing to represent theU.S.in the London 2012 Paralympic Games
Karen Lancaster has simple advice for parents with handicapped or disabled children: “Never let them say ‘I can’t.’”
In August, that attitude will be taking her oldest daughter, Kendra, to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, where she will join the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team in competing for a gold medal. Kendra has worn a prosthesis on her left arm since childhood due to a congenital amputation.
This year will be Kendra’s third trip to the Paralympic Games: she won a bronze medal with the team in 2004 at the Athens games, and a silver medal in 2008 at Beijing.
‘A fun kid to have’
“I remember as a little kid, when she was 3 or 4 years old, her grandma had bought one of those big wooden swing set kits and I was putting it together,” said Kent Lancaster, Kendra’s father and a Carmel native. “I put the rope swing and the ladder and the athletic ring on, thinking her friends would like it. I didn’t even think about Kendra. Well her mom and Kendra showed up and I hadn’t even finished putting the ladder on before Kendra was halfway up it. Then she grabbed that ring and swung herself around up onto it. I thought, ‘There’s nothing going to stop this kid.’”
In school, Kendra “did everything,” according to her mother. “Everything” included soccer, basketball and, eventually, volleyball.
“When she found volleyball in middle school, she kind of found what her true love was,” Karen said. “I always tried to push her toward soccer, because soccer for her would have been a little easier, but she wasn’t a big fan of soccer. She loved volleyball.”
In high school at Westfield, where her family moved from Carmel when she was 3, Kendra played on the varsity volleyball team, and she continued her love of the sport into club leagues at Purdue University.
“I was really lucky to have coaches that were willing to work with me on techniques,” Kendra said. “Even now, I’m having to make those adaptations because I can’t do things with my hands that my teammates with two hands can. It’s an extra challenge, but I don’t have any trouble meeting it. I just need some extra time.”
Her sophomore year of college, one of those coaches suggested to Kendra that she try out for the U.S. Paralympic team. So, along with her mother, she flew to Colorado to attend a training camp. Until she got there, however, Kendra said she didn’t know the team played a sitting variant of the game.
“Her whole life, she has never been quote-unquote handicapped,” Karen said. “I think that was just part of the way we raised her. She always played stand-up volleyball. I think she never identified as handicapped or disabled, and here she was playing with all of these handicapped and disabled kids. I think it kind of unnerved her.”
“It was a really hard transition,” Kendra said. “I remember going back to our hotel room at first and just crying because I wanted to go home.”
But, she said, her mother encouraged her to stick it out.
“She was always supportive no matter what I did,” Kendra said. “And she’s probably the only reason I stuck with the sitting team.”
Trying for gold
Kendra did stick with it, though, eventually being asked to join the team for the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, a season that was eye-opening for her, she said.
“We were an underdog that year,” Kendra remembered. “We were so bad compared to the other teams that they just stomped us. So when we showed up and started beating the good teams, it surprised a lot of people.”
The team took home the bronze medal on Kendra’s first Paralympic run and a silver medal in 2008. This year, she said, they have their eyes set on the top prize.
“In 2004 we just wanted to medal, and even that was kind of a reach for us,” Kendra said. “This time around, I don’t think we’ll be satisfied with anything less than gold.”
Kendra has spent most of her summer traveling back and forth from Edmond, Okla., where the team trains at the University of Central Oklahoma. Her mother, who works as a bus driver for the Westfield School System, has been fundraising to bring Kendra’s grandmother, her younger sister Kelsie and herself to watch the London games this fall.
Though her mind is firmly set on the upcoming competition, Kendra has spared a few moments to think about life after London.
“I’ve been thinking about when it will be time to retire and move on,” she said. “After my car accident last year, and it taking me out for a whole year, I’m not sure I’m ready to give it up after what it took me to get back into it.”
Regardless, Kendra said she’ll be following her personal philosophy of trying to live in the moment.
“Nothing’s going to stop me,” she said. “I’ll always find a way to do what I want.”