Think it's a long shot for a woman who has been playing golf casually for only four years to win the women's division of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship? I did exactly that last month in Mesquite, Nev., with a victorious poke of 291.3 yards, but the real upset is that I'm alive to enjoy the moment. On Feb. 27, 1979, my heart stopped on the operating table, and my left arm was all but severed at the elbow.
At the time I was a high school junior in Bay Shore, N.Y., nationally ranked in the shot put and the discus and dreaming of qualifying for the Olympics. Following a varsity basketball game, I went to push open the locker-room door but instead fell through a small window. A glass shard sliced open the brachial artery at my elbow, and suddenly my blood was squirting all over the floor.
I was rushed to the hospital. Not only did the doctors restart my heart, but they also saved my arm. I was cut to the bone from my elbow to my shoulder, but the nerve somehow remained attached. After the arm was stitched back together, it would be seven years before I could feel all of my hand, and even then doctors told me that I would never regain its full use. Through strength training I proved them wrong, and in 1988 I became the NFL's first female strength coach, working two seasons as an assistant with the New York Jets.
I took up golf in 1997 but have squeezed in only 20 rounds. Five months ago my golf instructor, Rex Flory, told me about the long-driving competition. "The woman who won last year hit it 249 yards," Rex said. "You can hit that with a four-wood."
I began training an hour a day, four times a week. It looked as if my quest for long-driving glory would be dashed when, a week before the finals, I tore a tendon in my left hand while practicing. During the finals I had to gingerly grip my 47-inch driver, and I won by using basically one arm, not an entirely unfamiliar feeling.