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SYMBOL OF STRENGTH KERSTIN KIMEL KICKED CANCER WHILE LEADING DUKE TO THE 2015 FINAL FOUR,


INSPIRING GENERATIONS OF BLUE DEVILS BY MEGAN SCHNEIDER


s a stiff wind drifted across the practice field off Frank Bassett Drive, directly behind Koskinen Stadium, the cages stood still, but the white netting swayed. The Duke women’s lacrosse players could tell coach Kerstin Kimel was anxious — and it didn’t have anything to do with their upcoming scrimmage against Towson.


Kimel answered a phone call, pacing across the turf. That seemed odd to Kerrin Mauer, the Blue Devils’ All- American attacker.


“She never answers calls at practice,” Mauer thought. In that moment, on that frigid


January 2015 day, Kimel received news that changed her life. She had breast cancer.


Kimel, diagnosed after having a biopsy of a sentinel lymph node the day before, would need three surgeries to remove a tumor and surrounding tissue with residual cancer cells, plus radiation and chemotherapy. She could have the surgeries before the season started, but her treatment would extend from February to June. Dr. Gregory Georgiade of the Duke Cancer Center performed the surgeries.


42 US LACROSSE MAGAZINE April 2017


“The day of my second surgery, my surgeon walks in and says, ‘There’s lymph node involvement,’” Kimel said. “That was a real blow. Right then and there, it was, ‘Wow, I have to have the full entire treatment,’ and I was really upset.”


But Georgiade knew how to get Kimel to stop feeling sorry for herself. “You just have to get over it,” he told


her. “If you had one of your players sitting across your desk who had a tough injury to deal with, you would not let her sulk.” Kimel’s biggest concern was how her cancer would affect her husband, Jack, and their three children — Caroline, now 16, Claire, 14, and Mac, 6. And how would her team take it? “She is a caretaker,” said then-Duke assistant Amanda Barnes, now head coach of East Carolina’s fledgling program. “That’s her nature. You don’t think that people who do all the right things could get cancer — and she did.”


It took Kimel a long time to tell her team. The 2015 Blue Devils had big potential. They were ranked No. 6 nationally with four preseason All- Americans. Kimel had just had her contract extended through 2020.


“The last thing I wanted was the season to be about me,” she said. Kimel worried that the effects of her chemotherapy, like losing her hair, would become a distraction. She insisted that nothing change about the team’s daily operations. That included her being there for them, on the sidelines and in the locker room. “She coached us the same and had the same expectations for us, which was huge,” Maurer said. “She is probably the strongest woman I know. Thinking back, I don’t know how she did it, but she did it so gracefully that I hope if anyone I ever knew needed a role model, she would be the first person I would send them to.” The Monday before the Towson scrimmage, Kimel pulled the seniors aside first and explained her diagnosis, hoping she could lean on them for support and leadership of the team. Kimel, who started the Duke program as a 24-year-old in 1996, would learn of at least 10 current, former or future players whose mothers had cancer. “It really made her so human to us,” Blue Devils assistant Lauren Morton said. “Those seniors committed when they found out in that moment. ‘We’re doing this for you.’”


USlacrosse.org


©PEYTON WILLIAMS (KK); ©CORNELL (JG); ©TEMPLE (BR)


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