Drexel coxswain overcomes large obstacles

Posted: May 15, 2011

One of the most courageous and inspirational among the approximately 3,100 athletes at the Dad Vail Regatta is a wispy Drexel freshman who weighs 112 pounds, most of it heart.

Kerry Walsh, coxswain for the Dragons women's varsity eight, has leukemia. As she described it Saturday, the steroid treatment for the disease rotted out her hips and she had a double hip replacement while she was a student at Bishop Eustace. The condition, called avascular necrosis (AVN), is also affecting her other joints.

"My knees are definitely starting to go," said Walsh, a 19-year-old Cherry Hill resident. "But I'll put that off for as long as I can."

The competitive spirit courses through Walsh's veins, but her condition prevented her from participating in most sports. She can't do anything that requires impact on her joints. But her older sister, Marycate, who attends the Naval Academy, offered a solution.

"My sister rowed at Eustace, and while I was on crutches as a freshman, she told me I could be a coxswain because I'm small and you don't have to use your legs," Walsh said. "I'm not afraid to take a chance."

Walsh helped Eustace win at the Stotesbury Cup two years ago.

Caps and gowns

The St. Joseph's boathouse continues to serve as a commencement hall for the university's senior rowers.

Seven women crew members received their degrees on Thursday, the eve of the Dad Vail Regatta, and seven men were awarded their degrees Saturday night.

"We started doing it about 10 years ago," Don DiJulia, St. Joe's athletic director, said. "We asked athletes in sports that conflicted with the commencement if they'd prefer to go to their commencement or compete. Almost all of them want to compete. We have the caps and gowns, a banquet for their families, the whole thing at the boathouse."

Two of the women rowers were honored for special achievements.

Danielle Brady, who rows for the varsity eight, was honored as St. Joe's outstanding female athlete. She is a niece of former St. Joe's assistant basketball coach Matt Brady, now head coach at James Madison.

Alexandra Karls, who rows on the second V8 boat, won a medal as the top student in philosophy. She completed her ROTC training and was commissioned into the Air Force. Fluent in Russian, Alexandra will serve in the intelligence unit.

My three grandsons

One of the proudest grandpops at the Dad Vail was John Murray, St. Joseph's Prep Class of '49, who had three grandsons take part in the event.

Two of them row for La Salle - sophomore Matt Schluckebier and freshman Ryan McKenna - and the other for Marietta, junior Sean McKenna. All three attended La Salle High School.

Ryan McKenna rows from the No. 3 seat on the freshmen eight. The Explorers advanced to Saturday's semifinals but were eliminated.

Schluckebier was at the Dad Vail, but only to offer moral support to his crewmates. He suffered a pulled muscle in his rib cage two weeks ago while playing Wiffle ball.

Sean McKenna's varsity lightweight eight finished fifth in Saturday's finals. He was selected captain for the 2011-12 season.

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com


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