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For some, the Penn Relays are just about getting the chance to run at historic Franklin Field. For others, it's about posting a personal record and competing well in front of college scouts. For those athletes that shine on a national level, garnering attention with Olympic-worthy times, it's about proving legitimacy.

But for Bev Kearney, her goals are just a little bit different. The veteran women's track coach at the University of Texas is just thankful, at this point, to be coaching.

On the day after Christmas, the coaching legend -- now in her 11th year -- started her car and set out to visit family and friends in Florida for the holidays.

But just 35 miles outside of Jacksonville, Fla., something went terribly wrong.

The car in which Kearney and her companions were traveling crashed and rolled over, concluding in a fatal one-car accident.

The wreck claimed two lives. Texas Women's Athletic Department Academic Counselor Ilrey Sparks -- a former standout track star at the University of Tennessee -- was killed in the accident, as was 63-year-old Muriel Wallace. Sparks, who is survived by her young daughter and husband, was a former Olympic athlete and an NCAA champion.

Former Jamaican Olympic medalist Michelle Freeman was also injured in the accident.

Kearney sustained extensive back injuries and serious wounds in the car accident from which she is still recovering today.

In the month after the accident, Kearney went through three separate, drawn-out and strenuous surgeries that pieced her shattered spine back together.

As a testament to Kearney's spirit, the coach was inundated with cards of support and encouragement, flowers and prayers.

But that outpouring was to be expected. Kearney has led the Longhorns to their most successful era in women's track. Since 1993, Kearney has led Texas to four NCAA National Championships and 14 league titles.

Despite the support the road to recovery has been long for Kearney, and the final destination of a normal life is still far in the distance.

The most recent surgery, a spinal realignment, occurred in early January. Since then, the seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year has been undergoing extensive rehabilitation.

When she's not on the track, coaching from the sidelines, Kearney is in therapy, eagerly headed toward her final goal for the summer -- walking, which she hopes to do by August.

"Therapy is going excellent," Kearney said last week during a phone press conference. "Recovery is going really well."

Just getting to the point where she can take care of herself again and maneuver without significant assistance has been a struggle.

"It has been a lot of hard work. I am at a point where I can stand and am working on moving while standing," she said. "My next goal is to get to Penn Relays and maneuver and do well."

Being bedridden and nearly immobile for months wasn't the worst part for Kearney -- it was her inability to coach the team she loves.

Returning to her athletes was Kearney's top priority after the final surgery and a goal that she has successfully attained.

"I attend every training session now and am coaching," she said. "The only thing I can't do is demo very well."

Kearney's Longhorns have been at the top of NCAA competition in recent years at the Penn Relays, and she hopes that this trend won't change this year. Her injury, it appears, has not precluded her runners from setting the bar high once again.

So when the collegiate competition kicks off this weekend, for Bev Kearney, there will be more at stake than qualifying times and broken records. She'll be putting a check mark next to one more personal goal of hers -- simply attending the relays.

But the competition should be forewarned. Even though Kearney has been relegated to the sidelines, her voice is just as loud and her team is just as strong. The Texas Longhorns remain a power to fear in women's track.

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