“I want to keep pushing myself, determined to improve and tell Seth’s story, to help as many people as possible.”
Name: Ian Johnston
Occupation: College golfer
“I was the top player on my high school’s golf team. In the playoffs my sophomore year, my team needed me to sink a final putt. I missed, and then I missed again; it was the worst hole I had during the tournament, and my double bogey cost us the win. When I met up with my parents after the tournament, they seemed really sad, much sadder than I was about a bad result on the golf course. They sat me down on the couch and told me that while I was competing in the tournament, my older brother, Seth, was found dead at a nearby hotel. He had overdosed on opioids.
Suddenly golf seemed meaningless. So did everything else. Seth was my role model. He had been struggling with addiction for some time, but he recognized it and was going to a local treatment center for help.
While I sat on that couch in shock, my father told me that there were two possible roads to follow. We could sit and despair, allowing Seth’s death to consume us. The alternative was to tell others about Seth’s life, to make others aware of the dangers of opioids, to honor him.
So, I did just that. Sharing Seth’s story filled me with a sense of purpose.
I hit the books and hit the course with a vengeance. In the classroom, I made high honor roll. On the course, my game got better. I won seven tournaments, including the Iowa Junior Amateur.
Every time I birdied a hole, I pointed to the sky. I was letting Seth know that I wanted to play well for him. I also donated money to the treatment center that tried to help Seth with his addiction. Once I started telling people about what I was doing, friends would come up to me and press a $20 bill or other money into my hands and ask that it be donated to Seth’s cause.
I spoke to our town’s middle school, talking about how Seth lived his life and how kids can keep themselves away from opioids and other drugs. Kids, teachers, and parents would make donations to the treatment center also. Overall, it has raised more than $15,000. The American Junior Golf Association learned about what I was doing. They connected me with Zach Johnson, a golfer from my hometown who won the Masters Tournament in 2007. I told him about what I was doing and the purpose behind my game. He and I played a round, and then he started talking about my experience with others. Before we knew it, CBS Sports filmed a video about my story that Zach narrated.
I’m a freshman in college now; I just wrapped up my first season of collegiate golf. It’s a lot tougher than high school, and on days when I’m not in a tournament I’m juggling classes with practice. But my grades are good, my game is improving, and I’m still pointing to the sky with every birdie. I want to keep pushing myself, determined to improve and tell Seth’s story, to help as many people as possible.
Golf is a quiet game, it’s one of the reasons why I love it. But just because the game is quiet doesn’t mean you can’t make a statement.”
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