Volleyball coach with breast cancer Credit: Rebeca Martinez

This time last year, volleyball coach Kerry Carr was bed-ridden, weak and vulnerable, just one week removed from an eight-hour surgery for breast cancer.

With many weeks of recovery ahead, volleyball was hardly on her radar.

“I was concentrating on living at that point,” she said. “My biggest effort was getting up in the morning. ... It was the worst eight weeks of my life.”

After winning that battle, she’s back on the sidelines for Penn this season and doing a lot more winning — the Quakers have their best record in years and currently sit atop the Ivy League with a 5-0 conference mark.

But this weekend’s games mean much more than maintaining that perfect record. The match against Columbia at 4 p.m. Saturday is the second annual Dig Pink game, an event intended to increase awareness of breast cancer and raise money for research.

The Quakers will collect donations for the Side-Out Foundation, an organization devoted to supporting research into targeted therapies and molecular profiling to combat breast cancer. In last year’s inaugural event — coincidentally planned before Carr’s diagnosis in October ­— Penn exceeded its goal of $1,000 by raising $4,261. This year the bar has been set even higher at $5,000.

For Carr, the Side-Out Foundation stands apart from other breast cancer organizations by focusing its support on research rather than raising awareness.

“I like knowing and explaining to people that the money is going to finding a cure,” she said. “People want to know exactly what their money is going for … and we know what this foundation is doing and how far it’s come.”

She believes her experience last year will help the team to surpass its fundraising benchmarks again in 2009. The team has already raised $850 this season.

“When you can personally relate to how that helps other people, you’re able to convince people why to give,” Carr said. “People have to know why this is going to help someone. Well, I’m a direct result of that.”

Carr won’t be the only example of a success story Saturday, as she’ll be joined by her Dragonboat rowing teammates. The crew consists of 20 women who survived breast cancer and took on the sport to build core strength and provide each other the strength of community.

In addition to selling Dig Pink T-shirts and taking other donations today on Locust Walk, collecting money Saturday at the door and wearing pink jerseys for the game, the Quakers will honor Carr’s Dragonboat team.

“[Dig Pink] is a celebration of survivors. The event is to bring awareness about breast cancer, but to Penn volleyball, we’re celebrating survivors,” said assistant coach Ryan Goodwin, who served as interim head coach and went 8-3 during Carr’s leave of absence last year.

“This is their celebration that they’re still with us …they’re walking back into the gym and they’re walking back into their lives and their families,” Goodwin continued. “That’s the most beautiful part of this event.”

The team’s improvement under Goodwin last year provided solace to Carr as well as the players. While this season’s success can be attributed to the play of its six seniors, the prowess of the junior class and the talent of the freshmen, last year’s experience has undoubtedly had a profound effect.

“This year having that under our belt just carries over completely that we can take on any adversity that comes to us,” senior co-captain Elizabeth Semmens said.

“We’ve been through hell and back, and we come out the other end and we’re stronger for it,” Goodwin said.

“The proof is in the pudding — you look at the product we put on the floor, it’s dramatically better than the product we put on the floor last year,” Goodwin added.

And this weekend the Quakers hope they can continue to dig deep on the court and dig pink off it.

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