|Caroline Larsson is one of the bravest individuals in golf. After turning professional in 2011, she lost her leg through chondrosarcoma but has continued to pursue the sport at the highest level and will tee up in the SA Nedbank Disabled Open next month.|
Attitude is everything!
Golfers share a common interest, all striving for that perfect swing or perfect shot to remember for years to come. In life, there are ‘ups’ and then of course there are those exceptionally ‘trying moments’ which at times feel impossible to bear. Caroline Larsson is an amazing young professional golfer from Sweden, who has recently shown that regardless of life’s challenges, you can always bounce back and make your life all that you wish it to be. This is her story as given to fellow golf professionals Laurette Maritz and Cecilie Lundgreen, two of her friends on tour.
Caroline Larsson is your typical Swede: blonde, blue-eyed, with a great personality and she is a also a professional golfer…striving to follow Sweden’s former world No.1, Annika Sorenstam.
‘Carro’, as everyone calls her, was born on September 10, 1988, in Karlstad,Sweden. She and her younger sister Louise (nicknamed Lollo!) are best friends who have been playing golf together since they were young. Caroline started to play golf aged eight and really enjoyed it.
“Growing up l always dreamed about a job outside. Travelling was my big dream so l was always interested in becoming a travel tour guide... but that never happened! So playing golf, l realised I was able to both travel and work which was the perfect combination. l went to a golf high school here in Sweden and then I attended a golf college called Newberry in America for six months. At 19, l decided that golf was what l wanted to do for a living.”
Caroline started experiencing problems with her knee - she couldn’t go down on her haunches and it hurt when she bent it. “It was swollen and hard to bend, it felt strange, so I thought I’d go and have a check-up." The doctors in Linkoping, where Caroline was living with her boyfriend Martin Brolin, explained to her that a tumour had started growing behind her right knee, however it was benign. In June 2010 she had a surgery and the tumour was removed.
Caddying for her sister Louise
“My sister wanted to try out at the‘Ladies European Tour Qualifying School for the 2011 season, so l caddied for her at La Manga, Spain, where the event was held in December of 2010. I wanted to see how good the girls on the tour were, so it was a great opportunity to help Lollo and to experience it all.”
2011 - plans for a great year!
At the beginning of 2011 Caroline turned professional: ”2011 was going to be my year. I hoped that all the practice and hard work that l had done would pay off. I was looking forward to some great success playing on the ‘Nordea Tour’ (a smaller Swedish Tour where many professionals prepare for the Ladies European Tour and also grow as a player. At the end of 2011 I planned to go to Qualifying School for the Ladies European Tour for the 2012 season.
"Louise wanted me as her caddie since we had such great success at ‘Q-school’ and since I learnt so much for myself while caddying for her at La Manga, we decided that when l was not participating in a tournament myself, I would caddie for her. So in February I travelled to Christchurch, New Zealand for the Pegasus New Zealand Ladies Open. We decided to stay an extra two days after the tournament to use the great practice facilities there and to see Christchurch and the area around the city.
Surgery number 2
“A week after we came home from New Zealand I was going back into surgery on my knee. I had returned for a check-up, however the prognosis was not good. The tumour had come back and it was growing a lot faster. It would be a different, more complicated surgery. The doctor told me “We might need to remove some muscle from your leg and we don’t know if you will move your foot again!” I was scared of course, but l knew it was not life threatening like the earthquake in New Zealand, which had given me a new perspective on life."
On March 10th Caroline went into surgery once again, she was in theatre for five hours as they had to go in the front and the back side of her leg. It went well! “They didn’t have to remove muscle, so l was very happy! I recovered fast from that surgery and I felt so good. I was back on the golf course and at the gym. I thought that all of the bad times were now over, everything would be better! I was excited about the future!”
“Three weeks after the surgery, l went back to my doctor for another check up and to make sure that everything was improving in my leg as it should. I was feeling so good and happy …but, unfortunately things were not going that well. I received the most frightening news ever…'The tumour was back in five different places!' the doctor sadly told us. The doctor told me, “You have a cancer called chondrosarcoma.” (Chondrosarcoma is a cancer of the cartilage. Chondrosarcoma is a rare cancer that can affect people of any age. Chondrosarcoma is graded based on how fast it grows.)
"The doctor then continued: 'Do you want to be treated?' Of course I wanted to be treated. 'Chemo or radiation maybe?' I thought. “The only thing that we can do to save your life is to cut your leg off just above your knee.” the doctor told me. After the words had penetrated I became hysterical and shouted at him “You cannot take my leg! You must understand you cannot just take it! You are taking my life!” I felt no fear, I was just so angry and upset. How could this happen to me? You always think this could happen to someone else, but not yourself!
“l cried and was very angry, I thought my life would end after they cut it off, what was there to live for? What would l do now? Nothing! I screamed at the doctor. How can you do such a horrible thing to me? It was the worst feeling in my life. I felt fear, I was dizzy and sad. It was like a horrible movie.
“I felt like that for a day and a half, then l sat down at my computer to start planning my new life. I was determined not to lie down and cry. This is going to happen and the only thing l can do, is to be thankful for what l still have and live with happiness in my life. The tumour chose to stay behind my knee in my leg, however l didn’t have to die, so what was left to do? I planned my new life (at least the first days) in detail. l started to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, l knew what l wanted in life, l got closer to myself and felt secure about everything. It feels weird to say but l was determined this was the thing that had to be done so l could achieve my goals in life and the key to reach my dreams. I didn’t want to be someone who would just lie on the couch and give up. I think a lot of my attitude comes from being an athlete. I’m a competitor and giving up does not exist! My mental coach and I have always spoken about ‘paying back’ if you want to reach your goals. I decided this was my payment, and it felt alright. It didn’t feel fair but l decided it’s going to be good. I changed my attitude (which l never thought was possible) so l could see myself with a half leg. I also saw a prosthesis being a part of me. I knew I had to change my attitude about this so l could get through the rough time ahead, because l knew that it would not be easy to deal with losing a leg. One thing was important for me - happiness, so l did everything you can think of the last three weeks before the surgery!! Everything fun you can do with two legs l did, (of course I can do it now too), but a last time, as a memory.”
May 5th 2011 – The day of the surgery
“Of course there were mixed feelings before a surgery like this. However I needed to focus on the future and what I would do when I got better. I had a choice between life and death, because if I didn’t have the surgery, it could spread more and I might not be here in a year!”
On May 5th Caroline entered the hospital and two hours after the surgery she woke up with her right leg having been removed above the knee. Three days later she was swinging a golf club… three weeks after the surgery Caroline was declared healthy and the doctors said there was no great risk that she would attract any infections.
“l am not angry how my life has changed, but of course it’s rough sometimes, especially in daily situations, for example when the grocery store is closing in 15 minutes and l need to quickly ‘run down’ and grab a milk, it takes me so long to get ready if l am not wearing my prosthesis. That is when l miss my leg the most. But at the golf course l feel at home, l don’t need my leg when l play, l have fun anyway!
“My attitude changed a lot because I knew that I had to change it if I wanted to manage this drastic change in my life. But I also wanted to change it because I wanted to be happy through this and I wanted to let people know this is possible. You can if you want to!! The attitude I now have and all my goals gave me strength to continue. I decided everything was going to be fine. Of course it is hard to deal with, it’s a whole new life to accept and to live, but I have found my strength in people I’ve met during the way, inspirational stories I have found on the internet and of course all the support from my family. I would not say I have a different view of life, but I am more thankful for everything that I can actually do. I am different in the way I live life now. I don’t want to rush through life, I am taking it more easy now than before, for example, a bogey on a golf round is not a big deal for me anymore!
"I don’t want to look too far into the future since I am “living today - not thinking about tomorrow” This year I have only a few goals since I don’t know how everything is going to turn out. Even when I decided in my mind all would be well, I didn’t know how my body was going to react to all of this. The big goal I had this year was to represent my club in the National Club Team Championships at Barsebäck Golf Club, which I did two and a half months after my leg had been removed. My golf is good, it’s not a big change from before. My short game is the same, other than the putting. It is harder to keep my balance now! My long game is also pretty much the same, however I am hitting the ball a little bit shorter than before!
“My family and friends have been a huge support for me through all this. They have accepted it very fast (faster than I thought!). But we have tried to stay positive together so we all can manage this. It’s a big change for anyone who knows me! I might only have one and a half legs, but I am still the same person, 100% Carro, no one else. Some things might take more time since it is the first time I am doing it and I have to figure out my way, but there is nothing that I cannot do!!”
ATTITUDE REALLY IS EVERYTHING! Carro's attitude is 'Fear Less; Live More!' She has since played in a Pro-Am on the Ladies European Tour at the 2012 UNIQA Ladies Golf Open in Austria and attended The Solheim Cup. She will tee up in the SA Nedbank Disabled Open next month and you can follow her blog at http://www.carolinelarsson.eu/se
To find out more about Carro, you can watch this video on Facebook or another video filmed by Golfing World here