Kirk Kilgour, an All-American volleyball player at UCLA before suffering a neck injury in 1976 that left him a quadriplegic, died Wednesday night at Mediplex Specialty Hospital in Thornton, Colo. He was 54.
Kilgour had battled pneumonia over the last year. The cause of death was not immediately known.
He led UCLA to its first national volleyball championship in 1970, paving the way for what would become the strongest men's volleyball program in the nation.
In three seasons, Kilgour helped UCLA compile an 80-5 record and was a three-time All-American. UCLA also won a national championship in 1971 with Kilgour.
"He was one of the first big men who could do everything well," said Coach Al Scates, who recently completed his 41st season at UCLA.
"He could hit from anywhere. He was one of the first great athletes in NCAA volleyball."
After graduating from UCLA, Kilgour was a member of the 1972 U.S. national team and in 1974 became the first American player to compete in Italian First Division volleyball.
In January 1976, Kilgour was leading an agility drill with team members in Italy when he flew off a springboard, landed between two mats and dislocated the fourth and fifth vertebrae in his neck.
The fact that he almost died--he lost 70 pounds in the first nine days after the injury--left Kilgour with a unique spin on the injury.
"I love life, and I'm not going to waste a minute of it being bitter about it," Kilgour told The Times in 1995. "I've lived a charmed life. I know how to be happy. I'm very rarely low."
Kilgour sometimes joked about using a wheelchair.
"I'm not in a wheelchair," he once said. "I'm in a golf cart without paying greens fees."
Kilgour, a longtime motivational speaker and hospital volunteer, received recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives for community service and was recognized by the California state Senate for "lifelong dedication on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities."
Kilgour, who grew up in Manhattan Beach, was a basketball player at a community college in Bellevue, Wash., when Scates spotted him playing in a summer volleyball tournament at a Southland beach. Scates offered Kilgour a volleyball scholarship on the spot.
"He was so quick and he jumped so high out of the sand," Scates said. "He had an arm like a whip. As soon as he finished playing [in the tournament], I recruited him."
Kilgour coached at Pepperdine from 1979-81, leading the Waves to a 38-31 record. He was an assistant coach when the Waves won the 1985 NCAA volleyball championship.
Coaching from a wheelchair and unable to demonstrate physical techniques, Kilgour said he learned to become a true student of the game.
"I became a much better coach," he said. "I had to break every skill down to the most minute detail."
Kilgour remained part of the volleyball community after leaving Pepperdine, acting as a TV commentator for Olympic telecasts in 1992 and 1996.
Until two years ago, he was the public-address announcer for UCLA men's and women's home matches.
Last February, UCLA defeated USC in the 25th Kilgour Cup, an annual benefit that helped raise money for Kilgour, who did not attend the event this year.
A UCLA spokesman said the school plans to continue the event next year.
Kilgour is survived by a sister, Karen Sutter, and his mother, Bonnie.