WALNUT GROVE – Carter Ross, who teaches sixth grade and coaches football and girls and boys golf at Westbrook-Walnut Grove, offered brief instructions before the golfers practiced one day last week.
“We have to dial in at 150 (yards),” he told the 13 boys and seven girls assembled not on a golf course but on a grassy field behind the elementary school. “Focus on the bump and run for conference and sections in Worthington. No matter how much rain they get, the greens will be as hard as a rock.
“You’re going to have bad shots but you have to recover.”
One of the Chargers golfers epitomizes that philosophy: When something bad happens, you recover, you bounce back, you accept the challenge, you thrive.
Kate Jorgenson probably wasn’t thinking along those exact lines as she worked through the hour-long practice, hitting short irons, then mid-range irons, long irons and finishing with her driver. With each swing, she rotated her right arm in a smooth arc.
Her left arm was not a factor because the ninth-grader does not have a full left arm. Nearly three years ago, Kate was driving an ATV loaded with rocks from the family farm when it rolled over on her left arm. Doctors tried to save the arm before it was amputated above the elbow.
Kate may blush if you call her a miracle. All she wants to do is go to school, participate in her favorite sports (basketball, volleyball, golf, swimming), spend time with her family and friends and be a normal kid.
As Kate waited to be released from the hospital, she told herself, “This isn’t the end of the world. I’ll still be able to play sports, I’ll still be a friend to all my friends.” Yes, she was going to be the same Kate.
“Kate’s just the kind of girl that you want to be friends with,” said her classmate and golf teammate Halle Steen. “She’s fun, she’s nice, she’s good to be around.”
Before practice on this day, Halle helped Kate put her long hair in a ponytail. Other than a few similar small tasks, Kate is self-sufficient. Just ask her mom, Nikki.
“From the beginning, she would get upset with me because I would try to lay out things so it would be easiest for her,” said Nikki, a fifth-grade teacher. “And she would get mad at me: ‘Mom, if I need help I’ll ask.’ And she does. I try not to say too much because she’ll say, ‘Don’t you think I can do that?’ ”
Kate was on the track team as a seventh- and eighth-grader. She’s giving golf a whirl this spring because it’s something new and a sport she can take part in for a lifetime. She wore a long-sleeved t-shirt at this practice, the empty left sleeve billowing as she struck balls. She has a prosthetic arm but it isn’t equipped to grip and swing a golf club.
“It’s actually quite amazing,” Ross said. “She’s done really well at it. It’s an attitude thing.”
Kate’s attitude since the accident has been everything. She hasn’t shied away from strangers, even little kids who look at her and ask, “Where’s your arm?”
“People are usually very accepting and very surprised by what I can do,” she said.
This day’s golf practice was typical for a Wednesday. Men’s league play takes over the Chargers’ home course, Rolling Hills in Westbrook, on Wednesdays so the team hits balls behind the grade school. There’s a grove of pine trees on the left side and a gravel road on the right. Five-gallon buckets of balls are taken out of storage in a bus barn, balls are dumped on the grass and the empty buckets are placed downrange as targets. When a school bus rolls up, headed for the barn, golfers yell “bus!” and no missiles are fired until the coast is clear.
Here, just like everywhere else, Kate is no different than anyone else. At times she is serious, at times she laughs with her friends. Just like any other day. A school dance was held over the weekend, and Kate was Kate; dressed up but with nothing covering her shortened left arm.
“She just owns it,” said Nikki, whose husband Jim manages the family farm. Their son Jack is a senior who also is on the golf team, plays football and stays very busy.
People in the community and well beyond came together after Kate’s accident. Multiple fundraisers were held, including sales of orange t-shirts (Kate’s favorite color) that carried the slogan “Kate’s Kourage.”
Kate has become a role model who inspires others with her tenacity and attitude. She also has been inspired by people in similar roles, including former University of Florida basketball player Zach Hodskins, whose left arm is similar to Kate’s. They met at a summer camp for young people with limb differences; the camp was sponsored by the non-profit NubAbility Athletics Foundation.
At one of those gatherings, Kate met another camper who was becoming a lifeguard. Always an avid swimmer, Kate returned to the pool after her accident. This spring, she will begin taking instruction in becoming a certified lifeguard.
“She doesn’t ever really hold back,” said Nikki. “She says, ‘I think I can do this. Is it OK if I try?’
“We’re very proud of her. It’s pretty amazing. She’s got quite a story to tell.”--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
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