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How Bev Kearney’s Incredible Spirit And Humor Keep Her Going

UT is packed with fierce, driven leaders — to reach the top at this tremendous institution takes a force of personality and will. But nobody on this campus is tougher than women’s track coach Bev Kearney.

She fought her way up from a traumatic childhood in grinding poverty. She put herself and a younger brother through college. She became the first (and for a long time, the only) African American on Texas’ traditionally old-boys-club coaching staff. And she proved herself by winning national championship after national championship — she’s up to six for Texas teams.

After all that, she and a group of close friends were on their way to Disney World the day after Christmas in 2002 when the driver lost control of their SUV. Two of the women were killed. Thrown from the vehicle as it flipped, Kearney was left paralyzed, her head bashed and her spinal cord torn up.

One of the women left a toddler daughter behind. Kearney adopted the little girl, taking on motherhood even as she slowly battled her way from having to be rolled over in the hospital bed to walking with the aid of a cane.

Even after writing Kearney’s full story for our May/June issue, I know I don’t know everything about what has gotten her through (though faith and sheer will, I believe, have been integral).

But her secret weapon, as my colleagues and I saw during her photo shoot, may be her sense of humor.

She’d clearly had a rough night. Being a head coach and single mother has its time pressures every day, but the night before the shoot was especially bad. A relative had been hospitalized with serious heart problems, and Kearney had been up since 2 or 3 a.m.

But she kept on smiling and joking. “I think I’m delirious,” she said. “I must be delirious — I can’t stop smiling.”

Playing around with different poses, someone told her to put her hand on her hip.

“I was gonna do that, but I thought it would be too sexy,” she quipped. “Yeah, sexy! At 50! Well, okay — 52.”

Kearney even deployed humor in reference to her injuries. When I surveyed her burnt-orange scooter and asked, “How fast can that thing go?” she answered, “Let me put it this way — a 2-year-old would dust me.”

Of course, behind that humor lingers pain. Kearney’s greatest wish is to run with her adopted daughter, now 10. But despite Texas’ top-of-the-line therapy, she hasn’t gotten there yet.

“I can’t go play. I can’t kick the ball with her. I can’t go jog with her,” Kearney says. “My scooter won’t even keep up with her bicycle anymore. Those are the things that tear me up inside.”

Will she ever run again? Read Kearney’s incredible story, and let us know what you think.

 
 
 

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