New Book Celebrates Bruin Volleyball Star
Published Mar 14, 2012 1:17 PM
Three-time All-American Kirk Kilgour led UCLA to its first two (of 19) men's volleyball national championships in 1970-1971. He played for the U.S. National Team and also played professionally in Italy. In 1976, he survived a life-changing injury: while training with the Italian National Team, he bruised his spine, becoming a quadriplegic. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 54.
But he is by no means forgotten. UCLA has remembered Kilgour annually since 1977 with the Kilgour Cup, a match whose proceeds benefit a disabled UCLA student. (The 35th Kilgour Cup takes place March 16 vs. Pepperdine in the Wooden Center). Now, Kilgour's longtime girlfriend, Belinda Ann Begley, remembers his life in a new book, Lucky Break—A Love Story.
Begley met Kilgour partly out of happenstance and partly out of her desire to go behind the scenes at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where Kilgour was a commentator. She knew Kilgour's nephew, who had served as his attendant at the 1992 Barcelona games, so she pursued the same position. But instead of becoming Kilgour's attendant, she won his heart.
"His story is beyond inspirational for anyone struggling," Begley says of her motivation to write the book. "My life was much richer for having known him. Kirk made you a better person He knew how to find happiness every day."
As Begley got to know him, she became more familiar with his history in Westwood. In Lucky Break, she recalls her excitement at visiting Pauley Pavilion for the first time, meeting the members of the Bruin volleyball family and witnessing their affection for Kilgour.
"[Kirk] especially loved UCLA. He adored [volleyball coach] Al Scates until the day he died," says Begley. "He felt Al was the best game coach ever and he was grateful for all [Scates] had done for him after the injury." (Originally, the proceeds of the Kilgour Cup helped offset Kilgour's medical expenses.)
Begley experienced Kilgour as a man with a serious injury who chose to live life to its fullest. From his wheelchair, he coached at Pepperdine and worked as a broadcaster and an actor. His approach to life even earned him an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Pope's request.
Begley's voice brightens when she describes Kilgour's enduring confidence and the competitive nature that endured throughout his life. Her voice breaks when she recounts Kilgour's last days, which she re-lived when writing the book.
"At times, I immersed myself in it, but I didn't lose myself. I found myself," Begley. "Kirk's story puts perspective on life. It's a reality check about finding happiness."