Years ago, I met Austen for the first time, when he arrived at my gym door with his third grade class on the first day of school. He was a blond haired boy, tall for his age and full of energy. He worked hard in gym class on his excercises and always had a smile for everyone. His positive attitude made him a pleasure to have in class.
He wasn't exceptionally fast, but ran with determination. He liked to shoot baskets, but he loved to play team crabwalk soccer, while kicking a beach ball around the gym. When spring rolled around, he went out for Little League, made a ball team, but told me one day, that he wasn't having fun. When I asked him what sport he would like to play for fun, he answered, "golf." So our journey began!
He had some experience hitting a golf ball on the practice range with his dad, but he needed help with his weight shift and hip rotation. During the next month, (with his teacher's and family permission), I took Austen out to the playground on my planning period. Each practice session, he hit wiffle golf balls with his nine iron and after numerous swing changes and much encouragement, he soon gained confidence and balance in his swing. When we parted that spring for summer break, he promised that he would practice with his dad and work even harder on his golf game.
Late in the summer, I received a call from Austen. His dad had broken a finger and couldn't play with him in the Father and Son Tournament at our local golf club. "Could I play for his dad and be his partner," he asked? "I would be honored to be your partner," I answered.
During alternate shot play, I was pleased to see that Austen had worked hard on his swing over the summer and the smile was back on his face. He had found a game he could love, that would challenge him physically and show him he could be a success in life. After the nine hole tournament, Austen's dad met us on the ninth green and as we all walked to the clubhouse, Austen gave me a big hug and said, "thank you." I got tears in my eyes.
A year later Austen's dad was transferred to another state for his work and I never saw Austen or his family again, but I will always remember a good student, friend and golfer, who loved the game of golf and over came his handicap of playing the game he loved, while wearing a prosthesis on his right leg.
Years later, I was watching Head Line News, when the announcer said, "after the break, a wrestler with only one leg is an inspiration to his team."
I waited anxiously for the sports clip to run after the commercial and there was Austen, now a confident high school athlete, in South Carolina, excelling in another individual sport he loved.
Tears came to my eyes for the second time in his sports career, I smiled and silently wished him well. I had given him golf lessons, but in return, he taught me that courage comes in all sizes.