PUT ME IN COACH: Lozinski finds a game to call his own

MINNEOTA – It was the first time the sun had shined all week.

Practices had resumed and games were finally able to be played after the rain had put all athletic activities on hold last Thursday.

I pulled my car into the gravel parking lot at the Countryside Golf Club in Minneota. I got out, started to look around with a quizzical expression on my face (a common expression of mine when anywhere near a golf course) and there was a young man standing inside one of the golf carts, by himself, standing out from the rest of the group.

I think he saw that I look confused, so he addressed me first.

“Hey, are you looking for Calvin?”

“I say yeah, in fact, I am.”

He responded with a quick and confident, “That’s me.”

Calvin Lozinski is a 14-year-old Minneota junior high student who, unlike me, feels very at home on a golf course.

Lozinski also happens to have spina bifida – a type of birth defect that is caused by the body’s spinal bones don’t form properly around the spinal cord at birth.

Lozinski spends his days in a wheelchair, as walking for long periods of time can be very painful. When on the golf course, Lozinski uses a chaperone to drive a cart between shots.

Luckily for Calvin, the defect was caught while his mom, Sharon, was 17 weeks pregnant with him.

“We found out when I was 17 weeks pregnant,” Sharon said. “Doing some research and insurance company-battling and three weeks later, we traveled to Nashville to undergo experimental surgery to close the lesion in his back before he was born. He was born 17 weeks and two days post surgery. It was the best thing we ever did.”

Having this surgery done halted any additional nerve damage and reversed brain malformation that can be associated with spina bifida. According to LeaAnne Bot, Calvin’s golf coach, who also teaches child development, the survival rate for children who undergo that procedure is very low.

Another uphill battle Calvin faces with the game of golf is the fact that he only started one year earlier. He is having to learn the game from scratch at least seven or eight years behind the non-handicapped golfer.

I have great respect for the people who have the patience and mental toughness to play this sport. It’s beyond any control I have and it’s not easy.

Being in a wheelchair during the day, Calvin doesn’t get a lot of chances to interact with other kids in the form of sports. He saw an opening with golf.

“It’s the only sport I can do because of my back condition,” Calvin said. “It’s non-contact. I’ve always kind of watched it on TV and I’ve seen movies based on golf. I figured, since it’s not a contact sport, why can’t I just do it.”

One of the most impressive things about Calvin was the fact that, when he watches the professionals on TV, he doesn’t really have a favorite player. He studies the game and watches trends.

He told me he watches how the players, in general, react after they hit a bad shot, tapping into the fact he has already learned that mental toughness is a huge part of the game.

“I look at how they react after they hit a bad putt or something,” Calvin said. “The ones I look up to the most are the ones that have a lot of patience.”

Golf is one of just many things Calvin enjoys and keeps himself busy with. He also hunts when he gets the chance, is active in the 4H club, where he is secretary of the leader’s council. His other 4H activities include showing beef and has shown pigs in the past.

Calvin is also planning on joining the robotics team in the fall.

His parents, Sharon and Chad, were especially eager when he decided to take up golf.

“We were really excited when he decided to try golf,” Sharon said. “We have talked about it for years as there are no other sports he can participate in. The nearest wheelchair basketball team for kids is in Mankato. He is in that spot where he just get’s left out of so much. When there is something he wants to do, we are really supportive of it.

“This is the first time he has ever golfed and he seems to be picking it up rather quickly,” she added. “We are fortunate to have coaches who have been great in making sure accommodations are made for putting in some extra time with Cal.”

Putting in the extra time has also allowed the coaches to see how much and how quickly he is improving.

“He doesn’t quit,” Bot said. “When the other kids see him keep going, it is hard for them to complain about very much. He has really overcome a lot. He’s still using a lot of his arms, but he is starting to learn to use the trunk of his body more. When he does that when he swings, he’s starting to see the better results. Also, I’m surprised at how good his balance is.”

In junior high meets, golfers can get no higher than a 10. Calvin usually maximizes his shot attempts but he is mentally tough enough to set goals for himself.

One of his proudest moments came at one of his toughest rounds during a recent tournament.

“When I teed off on hole seven, my ball got stuck in a small pine tree,” Calvin said. “We could do a lie of best fit, but I decided to play it from the tree. I thought I could get a better hit from playing it from there instead of taking the penalty.”

He was right. Calvin ended up getting a nine on the hole – his only hole of the day where he didn’t use the maximum amount of strokes.

While improving on his golf game is rewarding for Calvin, his favorite part about the sport is the social aspect of it. It gives him a chance to socialize with other kids who are active in sports and enjoy the outdoors.

Calvin wears braces that go from his ankles to his knees for the little amount he does walk. He had another surgery last December to help prevent pressure sores on his feet that those can cause.

He is taking his condition and learning how to deal with it and win battles every single day. Calvin has had so many surgeries that he has lost count and he’s not done yet.

Sharon and Chad anticipate another procedure within the next two to three years.

It will be just another hurdle that Calvin will have to clear. I’m not worried. He has been pretty good at clearing those hurdles all his life.

For a kid with personality attributes well beyond his years, a kid who took up a sport to be a part of a team and be with others, to fit in, golf has given him a platform in which to stand out.

He preaches a lesson, a mantra, that we all could learn from.

“Life gives you a lot of challenges,” Calvin said. “A temper could just be one of those challenges. You just have to overcome it.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: David Merrill is a sports reporter for The Marshall Independent. He can be reached by calling (507) 537-1551 or by sending email to dmerrill@marshallindependent.com.