As I slowly crested the steep slope up next to the 18th green, and then down around behind the grandstands and past the clubhouse – pushing the empty pull golf cart, my eyes began to well with emotion. I swallowed hard and took in a fast deep breath in an effort to keep the burgeoning wave from splashing over the edge. I pulled down my white golf hat to try to disguise my stretched and distorted face.
Stephanie smiled at me, as her right hand gestured to the area I should park the cart, and said, “You made it! Grab some lunch!” By the looks of the limited lunch offerings, I must have been one of the last volunteers back from the golf course.
“I can’t believe I made it,” I mumbled in response. She smiled. All I could think about was that six months prior, I was dragging myself around in a wheelchair around the 5th and 6th floors of the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon, inside Good Samaritan Hospital. They had me doing intensive Physical and Occupational therapies every day for three weeks. “No, really, I can’t believe I made it.” Earlier that morning, as I took that cart out to the 5th hole tee box for the shot gun start of the Pro-Am, I was pretty sure I was in over my head. I was stumbling around awkwardly on the uneven ground, quickly short of breath, and beginning to feel stress on my weakened left side.
I didn’t want to say anything about it to Stephanie, but out came a brief explanation about the stroke I experienced last fall and how hard I have worked to essentially get to where I was at that very moment. I couldn’t help myself. I was brimming with pride, a decidedly foreign feeling, and gratitude for all of the amazing help I have received along the way from therapist’s Kate, Denise, Adriane, Erin, and especially the wonderful Jaime for her miracle work over the last five months or so (I am still doing my homework!!). Yes, I have worked really hard to regain my independence, first and foremost, a truly underrated thing. But the more focused direct and immediate goal I have been striving for has been to be able to have the stamina, balance, and ability to walk well enough in order to volunteer caddie for the two annual Pro-Am’s and to be able to roam freely around all four days of the LPGA tournament: the Cambia Portland Classic. It may seem like a silly thing to be so intent about, but if you’ve spent any time perusing these words I share here, or have spent any time with me, you already know how much this all means.
This was my 5th year volunteering as a caddie and my 7th year in a row of attending and I am already looking forward to next year’s event (hopefully, back in August where it belongs). I have already espoused endlessly about my enthusiasm for this tournament and my love of the LPGA (see the rundown of last year’s event: SomethingMust Break), so I will try not to repeat myself too much about the quality of the golf, the competition, and the approachability and friendliness of the players, whom you get to see so up close – like a courtside seat for nearly every shot. A quick example: it was touching to see Morgan Pressel smile and pick up a toddler who was stumbling toward her as she moved from the 15th green to the 16th tee box – as Morgan (we’re on a first name basis) gingerly returned the little girl to her rightful guardians and took a moment to take a picture with the family and sign a golf ball, even though she was really struggling through a terrible round of golf.
Admittedly, the tournament lacked a little spark for me this year. I have lost my two favorite players to early retirement, first Leta Lindley in 2011 (see Summerside), then Jee Young Lee last year. I found that I need to have a true rooting interest. Still, the tournament was really exciting down the stretch until Brooke Henderson grabbed a stranglehold on the lead for good by the 71st hole with an impressive up and down, but I missed the intensity I have felt in previous years – living and dying with every shot of a particular player. There are so many great players to root for, I am having difficulty picking one!! Plus, I continue to bring some kind of curse to the players I go out to watch hole to hole (is it my deodorant?). They seem to play fine until I show up (see the Morgan Pressel example above). How often does one see a player shank a shot into a tree and have the tree keep the ball? Hello penalty stroke. Hello triple bogey. My apologies, Victoria Elizabeth.
In the end, however, this one was more for me and my own goals. I made it!! I tracked just over 72,000 steps on the course watching these talented women over four days (one of the sponsors was handing out pedometers in an effort to raise charitable dollars), when it was only a few weeks ago that I was still relying heavily on the use of a cane to get around. Now that I have managed to do that, I know I can continue to work to get better. There is still a long way to go and likely a lot of frustrating challenges ahead, but I needed to make it through this big event to prove to myself that I still have the will to keep on.