May 2, 2018

A Man’s Search for Meaning

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1779 words · 9 minutes

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, penned a book titled Man’s Search for Meaning. In his book, Frankl stated that there were three basic sources of meaning that kept him alive: love, work, and suffering. He says that if a man finds meaning through at least one of these sources, he can survive anything. I do not want to sound like I’m remotely comparing golf to a holocaust, but I’ve experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in my golf career. The three basic sources of meaning have either pushed me towards golf or have come from the sport itself. Since work and suffering had nothing to do with how I started golf, love will be a good place to start:

Love

I grew up in Chandler, Arizona in a family of five: both parents, my older sister, and my twin brother, Aaron, who will be mentioned a lot in my story, I’m sure. During my childhood, my dad was my hero. I mean, he still is, but more so then. He owned a restaurant and worked tirelessly throughout the week. When he had a couple of hours to spare, he and his brothers would try to hit the links. Since my dad is the coolest guy I know, I wanted to be like him and spend time with him. So, when Aaron and I were about 5 or 6 years old, we voiced our desire to golf with our dad, and Dad was super excited to bring us out. We went to a field in our neighborhood with golf balls and some right-handed clubs and my dad tried to teach us how to swing a club. Without much knowledge of the game, my dad thought it’d be best to hire a coach if my brother and I wanted to be serious about golfing with him. In our first golf lesson, our coach figured out that Aaron, my twin, is right-handed, but I was not. So after a couple months of swinging right-handed, I found my home on the wrong side of the ball.

I got into golf through love. I loved my dad and wanted to spend time with and be like him. It was not just playing golf, but in everything. I remember when I was young and we were taking family photos, I did my hair just like my dad because I thought he looked so cool. I would never run into a burning building out of hate or spite, but if I knew my mom was in that burning building, I would 100% risk my life to save her. Turns out, love is able to compel us to do ridiculous things, like getting me to play golf.

Work

As I continued to golf, my talent began to exude. Once I realized that I was an above average golfer, I started to work harder so I could earn a golf scholarship and maybe give myself a shot at the PGA. It was like a full-time job, but it was only golfing. My brother and I thought the 10,000 hours rule, by Malcolm Gladwell, was the answer to us accomplishing our goals. We would practice, do drills, compete, and get instruction together throughout the week. We gave up learning musical instruments, taking a rigorous academic schedule, and even some friendships for the sake of trying to make the PGA Tour. To us, it was worth it, and looking back, we may have sacrificed more than we needed to, but it was still worth it. At the end of my senior year, I was offered scholarships to two Division I schools: The University of Northern Colorado and The University of Nebraska - Lincoln. The obvious choice was to play for the Cornhuskers since they offered the most money, they treated student-athletes probably better than any other school (and the fact that my twin brother was going there maybe had also little to do with it). Golf was always my identity, but when I signed my letter of intent, golf gave me value.

I sustained a wrist injury before coming to Lincoln so I red-shirted my freshman year. It was nice to have a transition year, and it also helped me get a head start on my classes along with more time to participate in community service. Other than that, nothing really exciting happened during my freshman year, so I’m going to skip to the summer. I wanted to be ready for my first year of eligibility, so that summer, I went back to Arizona and practiced all day, every day. Aaron and I would get up at the crack of dawn, not to squeeze out all hours of sunshine, but because it was so hot. We would practice from 5:30am-10:30ish, go to the gym, and return around 4 or 5 pm and practice or play golf until dusk. When it came time to qualify for the first college golf tournament I was eligible for, I was ready. Just to clarify, in a typical college golf tournament, only five golfers per team play, we take the best four scores of each 18-hole round, and the team with the lowest combined 54-hole score wins. In order to determine which five golfers our team was going to take, our coach had us play 72 holes against each other. After 72 holes, the four lowest scores and one coach’s pick is selected to go. My brother finished in first, and I came in second. This was when I realized my hard work paid off: when I started in the first college golf tournament I was eligible for, little did I know, that was the only college golf tournament I’d ever play in.

Suffering

I played well in my first tournament, but from there, I struggled to make the line-up for the rest of the fall season. At the end of the fall semester, I drove my roommates to the airport in Omaha, Nebraska, which is about a 50-minute drive from Lincoln. It was sleeting snow and the roads were in pretty icy conditions. On the way back, my car hit some ice, rolled over twice through the median, and landed on the other side facing eastbound traffic. Shortly after, a car hit me head-on. I suffered a severe skull fracture, broken ribs, collapsed lungs, multiple abrasions, and pulled muscles all over. I am extremely lucky to be alive and to still be able to play golf. Obviously, the spring of my second year, I was unable to participate. Moving onto the fall of my junior year, I suffered many post-traumatic migraines and was unable to participate in several lifting sessions and practices. My coach, who was concerned for my health, thought maybe a medical exemption was the best idea, but I strongly resisted that idea. I practiced as much as I could to avoid medically retiring, and my efforts to make a comeback resulted in me placing third in the first qualifier in the spring. I did it, I beat my injury, or so I thought.

One morning before our trip, we were in the weight-room warming-up for our lift, I felt another migraine kicking in. My strength coach sent me to the track where it was quiet and dark and as I was sitting there, I began to weep because the writing was on the wall, my golf career was over. My coach took an extra player to Florida because he was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to play, and he was right. I suffered migraines throughout the trip, and when we came back, the team physician, my coach, and my parents thought it’d be a good idea to hang it up. Even just writing about it makes me emotional.

I’m sure the majority of athletes can relate to me when I say that I found my significance in my sport. I mean, I only spent all hours of the day golfing for most of my life. It was all I talked about, what I was proud of, what I did most, and sadly, where I found security. I planned on playing golf competitively for a long time, but it was cut short. Frankl talks about the courage to face suffering, but for me, I didn’t have the courage. I haven’t talked to many people about it, but I think now is a good as time as ever to say that I had a dance with depression. It is hard not to when my identity and my value were taken from me. As a strong Christian, I thought I placed my identity and value in Christ, but that was far from the truth. However, my faith really helped me during my time of depression. I was also lucky enough to see a Christian sports psychologist, Brett Haskell, who was able to encourage me in truth through that time and I’d like to take this part of my writing to thank her.

Because of my medical exemption, my school was still being paid for, so I spent my time interning for the Life Skills and the Strength and Conditioning department within the Athletics Department. I wanted to give back to the Athletic Department that had done so much for me, and when I did, I fell in love with Strength and Conditioning. It led me down a path to apply for physical therapy school and pursue a career where I blend strength and conditioning with physical therapy. Frankl says suffering brings enlightenment, and for me, I learned perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from my golf career: to not put your value and identity in unstable, fleeting things. Just because my source of meaning shifted, doesn’t mean my value or identity should change with it. My suffering helped me realize who I am outside of golf, who I am in Christ, and what I am passionate about. I have no question that the hand of God is at work in my life, and in the lives of every believer. I’m excited to attend Creighton’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program in the fall of 2018 and I’m excited about where God will take me down the road. But this is God’s story of my life so far, and I couldn’t have orchestrated it better myself.

Thank you

If you have made it this far, thank you very much for your attention. This means the absolute world to us. We hope that you enjoyed this story from Nathan Wong and if you did, please share it with someone that could also enjoy this story.

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