Deachman: Brooke Henderson and the power of role models

The 25-year-old LPGA star stopped by his former elementary school in Smiths Falls and gave a masterclass in generosity, grace and decency

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After each of the three six-foot putts Brooke Henderson sank on a recent weekday afternoon, the gallery erupted with applause and cheers.

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Remember, the 25-year-old LPGA star was a definite hometown favorite: The ‘gallery’ included around 50 students from Chimo Elementary School in Smiths Falls, where Henderson attended grades 5 through 12. Grade 8, along with a handful of school staff, former teachers, sponsors, school board representatives, family and friends.

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The « green », meanwhile, was a small putting mat in the school gymnasium, a room that would soon be renamed Brooke Henderson Gymnasium in honor of the world’s sixth golfer.

« This school meant a lot to me, » Henderson said after the ceremony. « I have some of the best memories here…and it’s amazing that they name the gym after me because I’ve enjoyed spending a lot of time here. »

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To Looking at many of the students’ faces, the greatest honor bestowed on them seemed to be Henderson’s presence on them. It wasn’t just the dread of meeting a top athlete and Olympian, although there was certainly some of that. And it wasn’t just the free loot the youngsters received – T-shirt, visor and gym bag – although who doesn’t love free stuff?

Rather, it was Henderson’s generosity, grace, and decency; his smile which, despite its near-permanence, was nonetheless warm and genuine; her innate ability to connect with others and make them feel like they matter. As remarkable as her skill on the course is, she’s no less adept at bridging what seems to be a widening chasm between the fans and their heroes.

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She lets them know – believe, even – that it could be them standing in her Skechers shoes, or whatever equivalent shoes their particular dreams might produce.

“It’s awesome,” said Piper Ridge, a Grade 6 student who sometimes watches golf on TV with her grandfather. “It’s so cool to meet someone who’s been to the Olympics. And she showed me that I can do what she can. I really like to play, so I might try that.

« It’s a big part of someone’s life to meet Brooke, » said Madi LeBlanc, also in 6th grade. « She’s an athlete and also a big part of this school, and she showed us that you can honestly pursue anything you love. » Henderson, LeBlanc said, inspired her to see where volleyball could take her.

“She teaches us that if we work hard, we can do whatever we want,” added Oliver Krotki, a 5th grader.

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Henderson cited her older sister Brittany and fellow LPGA golfer Morgan Pressel as role models when she was growing up. « And we’re friends on tour now, » she added of Pressel, « which makes it really special. »

It’s no surprise that Henderson’s peers on the LPGA Tour chose her as the recipient of the 2019 Founders Award, given annually to the player « whose behavior and actions best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values ​​of the LPGA”.

In truth, his behavior and actions exemplify values ​​we should all cherish.

Henderson on Thursday played down any adjustment she might have had in becoming a model herself at such a young age: She was a month away from her 18th birthday when she won her first LPGA tour.

« I just try to be the best I can be all the time, and it’s kind of cool that these kids wanted to come and hear me talk for a few minutes.

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« I hope I can inspire and motivate them to pursue their passion and their dreams, because life is short and you want to pursue your dreams and goals as much as possible and get the most out of life. »

According to her former teachers, that attitude has always characterized Henderson, who, while predictably the school’s top female athlete when she graduated in 2011, was also an A-level student with top honors.

She was, said Kathleen Williamson, who taught French at Henderson in grades 5 and 8, a driven student who, even at age 10, had an idea of ​​where she was going.

« She and (swimmer) Bailey (Andinson) were in my class, and I remember them coming up to me and Brooke saying, ‘Ma’am, Bailey and I are going to be at the Olympics.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s fine. Now go sit down.' » Henderson competed in the Olympics in 2016 and 2020. Andison competed in 2020.

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Henderson’s 8th grade English teacher Jennifer Strickland recalls a 13-year-old who took on responsibilities – escorting youngsters to school or quietly slipping lunch to a classmate in need – without seeking recognition. “She was a leader at school, with integrity and exemplary, but did it humbly.

« Then when everyone was going home to play a game system, she would go to the golf course and hit 200 balls in the rain. »

Tracy Staples taught Henderson the Grade 7 English curriculum and seemed just as excited and inspired to be there as any of the students. She remembers a positive, conscientious and valued student who, while balancing her own athletic and academic demands, made time for others. “She was ready to do anything to help her classmates. She was a real ambassador for the school, participated in all the events and was simply delighted to teach. She just led with character, dignity and grace.

She is, in every sense, a true role model and someone who, while inspiring students to aim as high as they can imagine, also hopefully encourages others to set similar examples.

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