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Scoliosis hasn't stopped top female golfer

By Stacy Lewis, Special to CNN
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Thu June 6, 2013
  • Stacy Lewis became the No. 1 golfer in the world in March
  • She was diagnosed with scoliosis at 11
  • She had surgery as a teen to implant a metal rod and five screws in her back

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle -- injury, illness or other hardship -- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. When Stacy Lewis became the 2012 LPGA player of the year in November just three years after joining the professional golf tour, she broke a 17-year dry spell for women golfers born in the United States. She became the No. 1 player in the world four months later. Lewis' love for golf began as a child when she was "just hanging out with dad." Her dedication to the sport was tested when she was diagnosed with scoliosis, a severe curvature of the spine.

(CNN) -- I was an 11-year-old girl with my heart set on playing golf when my scoliosis was diagnosed by my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Gary Brock.

My biggest challenge was wearing a brace for the next seven years. I wore that brace for 18 hours a day, only taking it off when I played golf.

Golf became my escape. Despite the bracing, my curve progressed, and I had to have surgery to implant a metal rod and five screws into my back. Brock was determined to give me a back that would serve me well for life.

I had just received a scholarship to college and would now have to share this diagnosis with my new coaches. Having scoliosis forced me to develop a strong sense of mental and physical toughness, which has benefited me to this day.

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Knowing that my coach at the University of Arkansas, Kelley Hester, would honor my scholarship and keep a spot open on the golf team made it easier for me to go through the long rehabilitation period. I had something to look forward to.

After surgery, Brock did not want me to lift anything heavy for several months, so when he cleared me to start easing back into golf, I practiced a lot of putting and chipping. That has really made a difference for me now that I'm in the professional ranks.

Also, I was able to watch my teammates play while riding around with our coaches, so I began to really understand the mental aspect of the game and why course management was so important.

Going through this healing process, I always wanted to help others in the same situation. After winning the NCAA Division I individual championship in 2007, I realized that people were reading about me and being uplifted by it. I began corresponding with some kids with scoliosis, who had reached out to me.

When I turned pro and joined the LPGA Tour, I knew that as more and more people heard my story, the more I might be able to help them.

So I partnered with the Scoliosis Research Society to create a public service announcement, and it started from there. This year, I am working with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to share my story and I hope inspire as many people who have scoliosis -- or any orthopedic condition -- to not give up because anything is possible with some determination.

I try to maintain a positive attitude and outlook at all times and make sure that I get some rest in between tournaments. I also take care of my back by working out diligently, doing a lot of stretching and making sure that my core is strong. And I pay attention to what I eat. I often keep up a rigorous schedule on the tour, as many of the players do, so finding a good balance is vital.

When I was told I had to have surgery to implant a metal rod and five screws into my back, I did not envision that I could be a professional athlete, let alone become one of the best. But in March, I reached the No. 1 ranking in the world for women golfers.

In that way, my years in a back brace and surgery were a blessing in disguise. I learned that if I put in the effort and the time, I could reach my goals and even surpass them. You never know how high you'll be able to go if you don't let the condition define your limits.

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