2023 Courage Award Winner – Karen Obrien

Courage Award

In this inspiring blog, we had the privilege of discussing the remarkable journey of a true champion, Karen Obrien, who was recently honored with the 2023 Sports Imports/AVCA Courage Award. Facing the challenging adversary of ovarian cancer, Karen shares a narrative that embodies resilience and the power of turning personal hardship into a force for positive change.


First and foremost, congratulations on winning the Sports Imports/AVCA Courage Award! Can you share with us a bit about your journey and the challenges you faced that led to this incredible recognition?


My journey with ovarian cancer began in February of 2015. I went into surgery for a routine hysterectomy and when I woke up my doctor informed me about the cancer discovery. At that time, I knew nothing about the disease and only knew one person who had faced this journey personally. Since my original diagnosis I have had five recurrences, which entailed 30 rounds of chemo, 35 rounds of radiation, blood clots, and a temporary ileostomy needing three additional surgeries. When I started chemotherapy for the first time in 2015, I was lying in the infusion chair for a very long 8 hours, receiving these life-saving drugs, and I started thinking about the lack of information and awareness out there about ovarian cancer. I also knew the wonderful things that Dig Pink has done for breast cancer and thought, that’s it, we can do the same for ovarian cancer. Which is how the concept of Teal Attack was created, during my first chemo with my husband at my side. Almost 9 years later, Teal Attack has raised more than $450,000 and held over 110 events, while raising awareness and teaching the signs and symptoms of OC to thousands.


Karen 2023 Courage Award Winner

The Courage Award is all about recognizing individuals who use their experiences to make a positive impact on the world. How have you turned your hardships into opportunities for positive change, both within the volleyball community and beyond?


Sadly, there are many bad days when dealing with an ovarian cancer diagnosis, but during those bad days you still feel grateful to be alive. By deciding to continue to live my life purposefully despite the bad days and the tough diagnosis, you can show people that receiving a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence but an opportunity to live despite the obstacles. In choosing to embrace life I have shown people you can still have faith, laugh, cry, struggle, be angry, be helpless and be grateful. I have shared my cancer journey with many people going through the same thing and I’m able to give them hope. Additionally, by using athletics as Teal Attack’s platform we are able to reach not only the athletes, but their moms, sisters, grandmas, aunts and many more. I am also involved in a program through MIOCA (Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance) called Survivors Teaching Students (STS). STS is a program where ovarian cancer survivors go to colleges and give presentations to the nursing, pharmacy, NP, PA, OT and PT schools, teaching them the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer through a patient’s perspective. This is another initiative near and dear to my heart.


The process of selecting the Courage Award winner involved the community coming together to nominate individuals. What does it mean to you to have your story recognized and celebrated by your peers in the volleyball community?


It has incredible meaning. I have been a volleyball coach for over 40 years and being recognized by my peers is such a great honor. The volleyball community in Michigan has been so supportive in running Teal Attack events. Now being recognized on the national level means it’s time for Teal Attack to expand its boundaries outside of Michigan.


Karen 2023 Courage Award Winner with friends


Looking ahead, how do you plan to continue making a positive impact and promoting courage within the volleyball community and beyond?


Our plan is to continue to raise awareness and funds for ovarian cancer through many more Teal Attack events. Our hope is not only to expand to other states but also other sports. Currently, 90% of our events are at volleyball matches and we’d like to extend our reach into other arenas so to speak.



Finally, what message do you have for those who may be going through tough times and are inspired by your story?


My message would be that every morning you wake up, you have choices to make. My first choice each day is to be thankful. I’ve never looked up the statistics for ovarian cancer because I am not a statistic. Every case is unique, and it really comes down to your fight, grit, and determination. I have surrounded myself with Faith, Family, and Friends. I’m also lucky enough to have the best caregiver in the world, my husband Dan. It’s so important to have a village behind you. And it’s so very important that you don’t stop living!


Karen 2023 Courage Award Winner


I am truly honored to be receiving this award. Thank you, sincerely. I appreciate the opportunity this will afford Teal Attack to expand our audience. We will continue to strive toward our goals of teaching awareness of ovarian cancer while raising funds for research. We will continue to look for ways to help patients and survivors beat the odds against this difficult disease.