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Coach overcomes homelessness, paralysis and inspires others

By Ashley N. Vaughan, CNN
updated 10:47 AM EDT, Wed August 15, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Beverly Kearney is the founder of the Pursuit of Dreams Foundation
  • Pursuit of Dreams mentors men and woman through programming and inspiration
  • Kearney was partially paralyzed in a car accident, but she learned to walk again

(CNN) -- When it comes to winning, Coach Beverly Kearney, University of Texas head women's track and field coach, knows how to get the job done.

With a coaching career spanning nearly three decades, she has won seven NCAA championships and coached 12 Olympians. In 2007, she was inducted into the USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame.

Needless to say, Kearney's athletes are known to get results.

"They would say that I'm tough. That I believe in being the best you can be at all times," she says. "I am going to demand their best, and I am relentless at it."

But for Kearney, success means more than coming in first place. Her goal is to make others successful beyond the finish line, so she founded the Pursuit of Dreams Foundation. Designed around Kearney's coaching philosophy, the nonprofit strives to connect young men and women with needed resources to realize their fullest potential.

"If I could utilize the techniques that I used to produce results in sports, why can't I utilize those techniques to produce results in life," Kearney says. "Pursuit of Dreams is about connecting people with the inner magic that lies within them...that let's them know, yes you can. No, better yet, yes we can."

The organization hosts many programs including a minority mentorship symposium, which introduces students of color to the back stories of notable leaders as a way to motivate and empower.

"If I can expose you to the best...it has a great chance of inspiring you to be the best," Kearney explains.

Another one of the nonprofit's programs is Pursuit of Excellence. Under this program, Kearney works with children and teens in foster care. Kearney and her team provide these children with new wardrobes, designed and custom tailored by a celebrity stylist.

"It's that hands-on loving touch that makes them feel special," Kearney says. "Why not use your resources to inspire them to be better citizens, to pursue their dreams? We are letting them know we care."

Kearney credits her life experiences as preparation for not only her nonprofit but her successful coaching career. While winning may seem to come easy for her, she is honest that her journey toward success was not without sacrifice and faith.

During her senior year of high school, Kearney was homeless after her mother, a single parent, unexpectedly passed away. After short periods of staying with friends and family, Kearney graduated high school and went to college on a scholarship where she excelled in both academics and track and field.

"More than any other time I realized I was on my own, and that moment drove me to being successful," she says.

After college she received a graduate assistantship where she turned her love of track and field into a successful coaching career. She is the first African-American to win an NCAA national team championship in Division I track and field, and she is the first African-American to serve as a head coach at the University of Texas.

"I just knew I couldn't fail," Kearney says. "If I failed I would be a shining example of why you don't hire African-Americans and why you don't hire women."

Kearney says what separates her from her competition is her empowering style that motivates her athletes to succeed.

"I won't give up on you," she says. "I don't care how bad you do, I am not letting go. I will believe in you no matter what. As long as you keep trying...I got your back."

Kearney's determination was tested again when over a decade ago while on her way to Disney World she was involved in a tragic car accident that claimed the lives of two of her friends. Thrown over 50 feet from the car, she suffered extensive spinal injuries that left her partially paralyzed.

Kearney says she never doubted her ability to walk again and continued to lead her team from her hospital bed.

"When they told me I was paralyzed, it went in one ear and out the next...because I had to get up and coach," she says. Track practices were recorded and then played for Kearney on a VCR in her hospital room. "Because I was an intuitive coach...whatever it is you need to do I can describe it in a way that you internalize it and you feel it without me having to demonstrate it."

Guided by her personal motto -- Believe it. Speak it, Do it -- Kearney continued to beat the odds and eventually learned to walk again.

"All that I have been through in my life has been the foundation that has created an unshakeable, unwavering faith that all things are possible," Kearney says.

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