I broke my back and almost died, but I never doubted that I would play -- and win -- again
By Reilley Rankin
At Georgia in 1998 I won four tournaments and was the NCAA women's freshman player of the year, but I didn't get my next victory until last month's LSU Invitational. As I walked up the 18th fairway with a lead in the final round, my playing partner, Auburn's Courtney Swaim, said something I never expected to hear from an opponent. "C'mon, Reilley," she urged, "you've got one more good one left." That wasn't the first time Courtney had been there for me. On June 4, 1999, she got me through something much more important than a golf tournament.
Courtney and I were unwinding at Lake Martin, 40 miles north of Montgomery, Ala., when I decided to conquer Chimney Rock, a 67-foot lakeside cliff. I wasn't so gung ho when I got to the top, but that didn't mean I wasn't determined. I stood on the rock and watched guys jump for an hour. Finally, I took a running leap.
I landed on my butt. After struggling underwater for what seemed like an eternity, I bobbed to the surface. Courtney swam to me and helped get me ashore. I was having a hard time breathing, so Courtney rushed me to a hospital. An hour later, in the emergency room, I still didn't know what was wrong, but I felt I might die. I was really afraid when one of the seven doctors standing over me said I had broken my back and sternum, which had bruised my heart, lungs and aorta. The doctors were afraid to move me because they didn't have a heart surgeon on staff.
I spent the next four months in a body brace. I missed golf, but every day I pretended it was raining and the course was closed. I was in rehab for 14 months and didn't play in a tournament again until last November.
Winning at LSU made me so happy. As Courtney and I hugged and cried on the 18th green, she whispered, "Reilley, I am so proud of you, and thanks for proving that you're going to be all right."
Rankin leads the Lady Bulldogs with a 73.06 scoring average.
Issue date: May 7, 2001