Beat­ing the odds


For­get the All Blacks, our crick­eters and net­ballers or even No­vak Djokovic and Andy Mur­ray in Lon­don. US golfer Char­lie Bel­jan has been the great sports story of the past few days.

The 2012 US PGA cir­cuit fin­ished with a tour­na­ment at Dis­ney World, Florida, over the week­end.

The fi­nal event of the sea­son is al­ways fre­netic. Golfers must fin­ish the year among the top 125 money win­ners to qual­ify for the fol­low­ing sea­son. Many des­per­ate golfers on the cusp line up, full of hope.

Bel­jan, a 28- year- old Ari­zo­nan, was one of them. He was 139th on the money list and needed a great week.

Un­for­tu­nately he felt ter­ri­ble, as he had for some weeks. Be­fore his sec­ond round, he was suf­fer­ing from short­ness of breath and dizzi­ness. Doc­tors found his blood pres­sure to be dan­ger­ously high. He was ad­vised not to play.

But this tour­na­ment was a make- or- breaker and he had shot a promis­ing 68 in the open­ing round. So out he went. Med­i­cal staff trailed him.

He felt so ill that he told his caddy he thought he was go­ing to die. Some­times he had to lie down be­fore play­ing. At other times he was bent over dou­ble.

Near the end he stum­bled down the fair­way. On the 17th, his caddy tried to line up a putt for him but Bel­jan said he didn’t care any more. He just wanted to fin­ish the round.

Amaz­ingly, he shot a 64 and led the tour­na­ment. Af­ter sign­ing his score­card, he was taken from the course on a stretcher and spent the night in hospi­tal.

He man­aged just one hour’s sleep, then re­turned against doc­tors’ or­ders to play his third round, af­ter which he still led.

Bel­jan’s ef­fort brings to mind other mem­o­rable sports achieve­ments in the face of ad­ver­sity.

Tiger Woods won his last Ma­jor, the 2008 US Open, with a bro­ken leg. Serena Wil­liams won two Grand Slam events and the Olympics this year af­ter al­most dy­ing in 2011 be­cause of a blood clot.

Hun­gar­ian Karoly Takacs, a pis­tol shooter who had his right hand (his shoot­ing hand) blown off by a grenade in 1938, re­turned to the Olympics in 1948 and 1952, win­ning gold medals while shoot­ing with his left hand.

Most dra­matic was the story of New Zealan­der Ka­te­rina Ne­hua, who was liv­ing in Sydney when the De­pres­sion hit. Her hus­band was out of work and she had four young chil­dren, in­clud­ing a nine-week-old baby. There was no money, not even enough to feed the fam­ily.

Then she heard about a marathon swim­ming con­test to be held in the tidal baths at Manly. She weaned her baby and used the last of the fam­ily money for the tram ride to the baths.

Or­gan­is­ers, con­cerned she had not eaten for days, fed her choco­late and beef tea. Then she jumped in the cold, choppy wa­ter and swam for 47h 52min be­fore she was pulled out by of­fi­cials, who feared for her health.

Cham­pion English swim­mer Mercedes Gleitze won the con­test, but was so im­pressed by Ne­hua’s ef­fort in fin­ish­ing sec­ond, she shared her win­nings.

The £200 earn­ings ($20,000 to­day) saved Ne­hua’s fam­ily from star­va­tion.

Bel­jan’s sit­u­a­tion last week­end was dif­fer­ent. There were no thoughts of star­va­tion or fi­nan­cial ruin, but for drama and de­ter­mi­na­tion to over­come the odds, it was still a never-to-be­for­got­ten story.

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