Union golfer with rheumatoid arthritis plays through pain

New golf clubs, therapy, medicine helps Lauren Williams

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

Lauren Williams gripped one of her new golf clubs, specially designed for her, and took a swing.

Perfect. Better than perfect.

“Oh my gosh. This is a miracle,” she recalled.

Williams discovered, that day in March, that she could keep playing -- she could endure.

Months after telling her coach she was going to have to give up the game, the Union High School senior was back on the course.

New medications, new therapy, and yes, those special clubs, have helped Williams deal with the effects of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Diagnosed when she was 13 -- although she and her family now know she had been ailing long before then -- Williams suffers from excruciating pain in her knees, wrists, and fingers.

Yet through the years, she has managed to figure out a way to remain in the school band, excelling with her flute. She has kept her spot on the cheer squad, even if she had to stop tumbling. And for her first three years of high school, she played golf for the Titans.

However, the pain associated with golf became unbearable. She would walk off the course in tears, in agony. The vibration in the club from each shot ripped through her fingers and wrists.

In November, Williams informed coach Gary Mills that she would not be able to play her senior year.

“That was probably the hardest thing to say,” Williams recalled, tearing up at the memory.

Mills told Williams to take time away from the sport, to rest her body. He assured her that if she changed her mind, if she could find a way to deal with the pain, there would always be a spot for the most positive player on the team.

Over the winter, Williams was prescribed new medication and she threw herself into occupational therapy to strengthen her hands. She began wearing wrist braces while she slept.

“I used to wake up in constant pain,” she said. “Now I don’t feel anything (in the morning).”

Meanwhile, Lauren’s parents -- Zoe and Mike Williams -- jumped into action to help the golf cause.

Her mom explained the situation to Conan Elliott, a golf pro at Camas Meadows. He then interviewed several older players with arthritis, to find out how they dealt with the condition. Special shafts to limit vibrations seemed to be the common denominator.

Lauren’s new shafts arrived two days before the golf season. With her father’s encouragement -- Mike taught Lauren the game when she was 10 years old -- she gave it a try.

That was her miracle moment in terms of golf.

Mills might have been as happy as Williams. The coach did not really need to know if Williams could score as well as in the past -- he just wanted Williams and her contagious personality on the course with the rest of the Titans.

“She’s one of the happiest people I know. Very cheerful, light-hearted, keeps the team loose,” Mills said. “She’s pretty tough, too. If it’s 45 degrees and rainy, and we’re going to go out there, she doesn’t say, ‘Really?’ She says ‘OK.’ She’s a lot tougher than she looks.”

Playing her senior year also has given the family another reason to celebrate. Lauren’s sister, Mikaela, is a freshman with the program.

“I was going to live my golf dream through her,” Lauren said.

Lauren is still living her own dream. A month into the season, she was the medalist in a dual match.

While that was a special day for the family, winning and losing or numbers on a scorecard pale in comparison to just being out there.

“Even though I have this condition, I still like to do my favorite things,” Williams said. “I work around certain things that I can’t do, so I’ve become stronger in other things.”

Her golf game is a fine example. There have been long stretches when she could not hit her driver, because of the pain.

“So I putted all the time and I chipped all the time,” Williams said. “I got really good at my short game.”

Williams also is starting to work on personal responsibility in regard to her medications. She has been accepted to Weber State University in Utah.

Lauren’s mom, a nurse, will not be there in the fall to administer the weekly shots of medication. So Lauren has started injecting herself.

“I’m used to it now, but the first time, I was scared,” she said.

Williams also takes two pills a day and every six months she has shots of cortisone directly into her hands and knees -- a grueling ordeal, she said.

All of this, Lauren said, is worth it to remain active. She is not just doing this for herself, but for others who have the condition, who might think they will be limited.

“Besides inspiring my golf team, I think I can inspire the community,” Williams said. “I can continue doing what I want to do and still have a smile on my face with rheumatoid arthritis. I want to inspire people.”

The condition also has led her to Weber State.

“I’m going to be a radiologist,” she said. “Having arthritis has really got me into the skeletal system and how it works. I want to pursue a career where I get to look at bones all day.”

And when she has the opportunity, Williams plans on sharing her story.

“Having this condition has really pushed me to inspire people to overcome their roadblocks in life,” Williams said.