By Eileen Haupt
This past weekend, golfer Gary Woodland captured the prestigious U.S. Open Championship. The spotlight was shining bright on this 35-year-old golfer who won his first Major.
But Woodland brought someone else with him to share the spotlight– a young lady with Down syndrome whom he met a few months ago at a tournament in Phoenix.
The young woman, Amy Bockerstette, and Woodland forged a friendship after they played a practice round in Phoenix. The PGA Tour YouTube video of Bockerstette making challenging shots on the 16th hole, went viral, amassing over 20 million views.
And there was every reason to believe that nerves aside, Amy would do well. Twice she has appeared in the Arizona state high school championship and she has an athletic scholarship to Paradise Valley Community College.
So what did the world find so intriguing about this young lady? Yes, her performance was impressive; her shot off the tee showed perfect form and she parred the 16th hole. But I think what captured the world was the special nature that is inherent in a person with Down syndrome.
Woodland was clearly impressed by Bockerstette’s performance on the challenging 16th hole. But what appears to have made more of an impression to the golf pro was Bockerstette’s “love of life,” as he put it.
In the video, as Bockerstette walked around with Woodland, her confident joy was apparent. She appears to have no nervousness as she makes her shots. “I’ve got this,” she tells herself before each shot.
“I hear you’re a good golfer,” Woodland remarks to her. An unconceded and honest, “Yes” is her reply. Bockerstette reacts with pure joy as she realizes people in the stands are waving at her. She joyously waves back, remarking to her father matter-of-factly and sweetly, “They love me!”
“I’ve had a lot of good memories in my life, but that’s one I’ll never forget,” Woodland said, according to Golf Digest. “I’ve been blessed to do lot of cool things on the golf course but that is by far the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced. She was phenomenal. And then to step up in front of all the people and the crowd and everything and to hit the shots that she hit and made par, I never rooted so hard for somebody on a golf course and it was an emotional, emotional really cool experience.”
My daughter Sadie is the same age as Bockerstette, born just one month later. I recognize similar qualities in Bockerstette that I see in my daughter and others with Down syndrome. Even after 20 years, I still cannot quite find the words to adequately describe what makes individuals with Down syndrome so special.
It is the “tender languor” as Dr. Jerome Lejeune (who discovered the cause of Down syndrome) put it. There is the softness of their features, the sweetness, which he said, “extends to their character.” It is the sense of humor, the genuine affection in their hugs, the honesty of saying how things are.
Gary Woodland seemed to have picked up on these special qualities. The two have remained in touch since they met. Bockerstette tweeted to Woodland before his tournament, “You’ve got this.” Woodland called Bockerstette after his victory to thank her for her “positive vibes.”
The Today Show invited Bockerstette to appear on the show the Tuesday after Woodland’s win. They surprised her by also inviting her new friend, Woodland. On the show, Woodland stated, “…the world needs a lot more of Amy. Her attitude, her energy is contagious.”
Truer words were never spoken. The world does needs lot more of these sweet, special individuals with Down syndrome. Sadly, the word is not seeing more, but fewer, babies with Down syndrome being born. Because of prenatal testing, approximately 75 percent of mothers in the U.S. whose babies are prenatally diagnosed with down syndrome, will choose abortion.
This statistic grieves me, especially knowing firsthand the special gifts that individuals with Down syndrome possess. It gives me great hope knowing that a short video of a beautiful, joyful, confident, and talented golfer with Down syndrome, can move the world to joyful tears. I pray that these stories translate into more mothers choosing Life for their babies with Down syndrome.
To the pregnant mom who has just received the diagnosis of Down syndrome for her unborn child, trust Woodland’s wise words, “The world needs a lot more of Amy.” Choose life for your child; you will have no regrets!
You’ve got this!