This story originally appeared in the May/June issue of ESPNHS Magazine.
Stacy Lewis is a study in perseverance.
Diagnosed at 11 with scoliosis, a condition causing lateral curvature of the spine, she spent her teenage years outside Houston wearing a back brace 18 hours a day. But instead of accepting limitations, she earned a golf scholarship to the University of Arkansas, and although back surgery nearly derailed her college career before it started, she won 12 tournaments.
During her third full season as a pro, Lewis won her first LPGA title, the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship, which is one of the tour’s four majors.
Because June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month, we caught up with the 27-year-old to discuss her experience and her work as a spokesperson for the Scoliosis Research Society.
ESPNHS: How did you cope with having scoliosis as a teenager?
Lewis: It was really hard. My mom and I got into a lot of fights because I didn’t want to wear my brace. As a high school kid, you’re worried about what you look like, what your clothes are like and what people think of you. I didn’t want anybody to know about my brace, and I tried to hide it as best I could. Part of the reason I’m partnering with the Scoliosis Research Society is to create awareness so kids don’t feel so bad about it.
ESPNHS: What was it like wearing a back brace 18 hours a day for 6 1/2 years?
Lewis: It’s very uncomfortable. And in Texas especially it’s very hot, so the summers are brutal. I would itch, get bruises, sweat a lot. And I had to sleep in it. I turned to golf because that was time I could get out of my brace to practice.
ESPNHS: How did you overcome the disease to become a major champion?
Lewis: I think it created a lot of determination in me. When things get tough, that’s when I get better. Having to go through all I did with my back, I learned to deal with hard situations. And I think for golf that’s perfect, because it’s such a mental game that you have to be able to overcome bad holes and bad shots.
ESPNHS: What other lessons have you learned from your journey?
Lewis: I think the biggest thing is just to never give up. When somebody tells me it can’t be done, I say, "Watch me." It’s made me who I am.
Read more about Lewis's triumphs on and off the course on her personal blog, StacysBack.com.