Golf coach battles cancer, receives community support

Uncertainty and apprehension consumed the room as golf coach Kerry Gabel stood before his students. He had called the golf team in for a morning meeting — a request that strayed from their usual schedule. As coach Gabel looked at the students that he has coached through both wins and losses, he announced that he had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. The athletes sat in shock.

The gravity of his words pressed down on them. As coach Gabel began explaining his diagnosis, he and the golfers began to cry. Although the team knew this meant that he would be absent from several practices, they were more worried for the health of their coach.

“You could feel the heaviness in the room,” senior Maddie Spear said. “The thought of losing him came into all of our minds, and it was just so sad.”

Just one week after his initial diagnosis, coach Gabel spent over two weeks in the hospital having surgery to remove his right kidney. His wife, special education teacher Jessica Gabel said she had little time to absorb the shock of his diagnosis because they immediately began searching for medical facilities. In just a few days, both coach Gabel and his wife were forced refocus their time away from their students and their two kids to create a plan of action.

The coach missed the beginning of the season and several tournaments. He said his pain was worsened by not being able to actively coach his students. As soon as he began to recuperate from the surgery, he picked up his laptop to work on organizing tournaments. Spear said that even though the assistant golf coach worked hard to prepare the athletes, coach Gabel’s presence was missed.

“I feel like the team chemistry and the team balance was kind of off,” Spear said.

The members of the golf team were quick to support their coach and his family. He and Mrs. Gabel received a stack of handwritten letters from the golf team that spoke of how the coach impacted each athlete’s life. The team even attended his older daughter’s volleyball game to show support. Jessica’s students have also shown support by signing a poster that reads ‘We Love The Gabels” that hangs on the wall of her classroom.

The thought of losing him came into all of our minds, and it was just so sad.”

— Senior Maddie Spear

The golf booster club set up a meal train for him and his family and organized a fundraiser to help with his medical bills. The team designed t-shirts and sold them online and during lunches.

Spear also made ribbons for the team and their parents that read “take dead aim,” a phrase the team coined for coach Gabel to encourage him to focus on getting rid of his cancer.

His niece set up a donation system through the crowdfunding site, You Caring. His friends and family donated over twice the amount of the goal. The money raised covered the entire year’s medical expenses, with some left over for the next year.

Through his work of organizing and leading several golf tournaments, he has interacted with many other teams. To show support, golf teams from other schools such as Jesuit Dallas and Lake Dallas High School, have contributed to the fund and left messages of support.

“To see the support coming from that is very overwhelming,” coach Gabel said. “Friends, family, community, a lot of high school coaches and golf teams supported that.”

Coach Gabel has now started immunotherapy cancer treatment at UT Southwestern. For this, he missed more school, but is hopeful that treatment will work.

Despite his positive outlook throughout his battle, he said he must carry the emotional and physical weight of cancer. When he was first diagnosed, he said he received several heartfelt words of support, but the words that stuck with him the most were “dude, cancer sucks.”

For coach Gabel, these few humorous words represented his goal to stay positive throughout his battle.

“It was a lighthearted comment, but it really does suck,” coach Gabel said. “It’s a supportive statement that we use all the time now.”

Coach Gabel said that since his diagnosis, he has learned what is truly important. Although he tries to conduct golf practice as he did before, he said he has changed. While he still encourages his students to perform well as athletes, he places a greater emphasis on making a difference in others’ lives.

“I think ever since he’s had cancer his viewpoint has gone less from the score and how you act on the course to how you make other people feel when you’re around them and the impact you make on other people,” Spear said.

For the Gabels, cancer has disrupted many aspects of their everyday life, including their future plans with their kids, yet coach Gabel knows he must remain hopeful.

“A big part of it is a mental battle that you have to go through,” coach Gabel said. “Throughout the whole process I’ve stayed pretty positive I have to. I have to do it to myself I have to do it for my family.”