Amaz­ing Amy changing lives on and off the course

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JOHN MAR­SHALL

There are times in life, maybe a hand­ful, when ev­ery­thing changes. A mo­ment, sim­ple or world shat­ter­ing, slant­ing the past, shap­ing all still to come.

There are peo­ple who have the same ef­fect, some­one so gen­er­ous, so gen­uine, so joy­ful, meet­ing them trans­forms per­spec­tive.

Amy Bock­er­stette is one of those peo­ple. Play­ing one hole of golf with Gary Wood­land was one of those mo­ments.

“Amy has a huge im­pact on ev­ery­one she meets,” her swing coach Matt Acuff said. “You can’t meet Amy and not be im­pacted by her.”

Par­ents of children with Down syn­drome are of­ten told what their children can’t do.

Joe and Jenny Bock­er­stette quickly re­al­ized all Amy could do.

She had good hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion. Per­haps more im­por­tantly, she had de­ter­mi­na­tion.

It may have taken Amy a lit­tle longer to learn how to do things, but she was will­ing to work at it.

Amy bowled, swam, played bas­ket­ball, base­ball and soc­cer. She took up pi­ano, loved to dance, learned to ride a bike. She was a nat­u­ral with a golf club in her hand.

Amy also had some­thing else in abun­dance: charisma.

“I re­mem­ber say­ing when she was five or six years old, this child changes peo­ple,” Joe Bock­er­stette said. “She has this sort of love and light ev­ery­where she goes.”

The Spe­cial Olympics were founded 51 years ago by Eu­nice Kennedy Shriver to change per­cep­tions of peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties.

Joe and Jenny pro­vided the foun­da­tion for Amy’s suc­cess, en­cour­ag­ing and push­ing her along the way.

Amy, through her own fo­cus and de­ter­mi­na­tion, ran with it, earn­ing mul­ti­ple Spe­cial Olympics medals, a spot on her high school golf team, a col­lege schol­ar­ship. She made par along­side a PGA Tour player at the row­di­est hole in golf, shin­ing in the mo­ment in­stead of shrink­ing un­der the pres­sure.

Amy’s story ex­tends be­yond the Spe­cial Olympics realm. It started when Amy made the golf team at San­dra Day O'Con­nor High School. As a se­nior, she drew lo­cal at­ten­tion when she played in the state high school tour­na­ment. Na­tional at­ten­tion came when she earned a golf schol­ar­ship at Par­adise Val­ley Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Phoenix.

Then came golf with Gary.

Amy ar­rived at the Phoenix Open’s 16th hole in late Jan­uary be­liev­ing she was there just to meet Wood­land dur­ing a prac­tice round. When the diminu­tive 20-year-old got up and down for par from a green­side bunker, it sent re­ver­ber­a­tions be­yond the golf-hole-turned-sta­dium.

Wood­land’s ca­reer tra­jec­tory veered up­ward.

Known for his in­abil­ity to close out tour­na­ments, he won his first ma­jor ti­tle months af­ter his mo­ment with Amy, re­ly­ing on her “I got this” mantra to win the U.S. Open at Peb­ble Beach. Wood­land made his con­nec­tion with Amy a last­ing one in­stead of a fleet­ing mo­ment by stay­ing in touch, even invit­ing her to join him – and the U.S. Open tro­phy – on NBC’s “To­day” show.

“She’s meant ev­ery­thing for me from a mental stand­point,” Wood­land said. “The world needs more of her in it.”

Amy be­came a celebrity, zigzag­ging across the coun­try, her par­ents barely able to keep up with all the golf tour­na­ments, en­gage­ments, re­quests for in­ter­views. She worked the red car­pet at the ESPYs with ease, re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion and was mobbed by in­spir­ing at­ten­dees at the Na­tional Down Syn­drome Congress. “My su­per­power is con­fi­dence and be­liev­ing in my­self,” she said. “With your su­per­power, you can cre­ate your own pur­pose.”

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