The bravery of Madelene Sagström
Brave is an overused word in sport. We talk about players hitting brave tee shots that find the centre of the fairway when they’re in contention for a major. Or taking the brave line to the flag. Or bravely holing a five-foot putt for victory. There’s nothing brave in those physical acts compared to the bravery Sweden’s Madelene Sagström showed yesterday.
All of us surely have two hopes after hearing Sagström’s appalling story of being sexually abused at the age of seven: that telling her tale acts as some sort of catharsis for the Swede, and her decision to go public means others who’ve suffered the same experience, and are still suffering, do not do so in silence.
What Sagström had to endure at the age of seven was horrific; deciding to keep it bottled up inside her for 16 years may have been even more painful. How she managed to function not only as a golfer, but as a human being is testament to her strength of will.
“For years, I immersed myself in golf,” Sagström wrote on LPGA.com. “Golf became my saviour. I could lose myself in the game. And when I played well, I was OK.
“That became a pattern. If I could just play a little better, I thought I’d be happier.
“What I didn’t realise is that I simply did not like who I was. I felt insecure – never thinking that I was worthy enough or good enough. I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror. I couldn’t even put body lotion on my legs because of how much I hated my body, hated myself, all because of what someone else did to me."
Sagström’s decision in 2016 to tell Robert Karlsson, her coach, ended her nightmare.
“The day I shared my secret, all my walls broke down. Everything I had built up for so many years fell to the ground.”
Karlsson has 11 European Tour victories and two appearances in the Ryder Cup (2006 and 2008). In 2008, he became the first Swede to top the European Tour order of merit. Those accomplishments pale in comparison to how he connected with Sagström to help her out of her nightmare. She might still be holding her secret if not for Karlsson recognising she was deeply troubled inside. He's in no doubt the decision to share her secret started the healing process.
“By talking about the abuse she suffered as a child, she proved to herself that she had nothing to fear,” Karlsson told LPGA.com. “She didn’t have anything in herself to avoid, feel ashamed of or that she needed to hide. And it definitely took her on a different path where she was more stable in herself and more accepting of herself.”
We all have favourite players. Suffice it to say many of us might be rooting that wee bit more enthusiastically for Madelene Sagström whenever she gets into contention in future.
However, what she eventually achieves on the golf course once her career is over is nothing compared to what she may have achieved off it. That she has decided to share her experience is hopefully a means of telling others in her situation to seek help.
“By having the courage to share her experience with sexual abuse, she’s giving courage to countless others,” Karlsson said.
Indeed, one of Sagström's main reasons for telling her story is precisely to help others.
“Survivorship is a continuous process. As a professional athlete, I have the visibility to make a difference and connect with others who may have experienced sexual abuse. If I touch one life by telling my story, it will all be worth it.”
It will. It will.
#JustSaying: “Find people who will make you better.” Michelle Obama
Image courtesy of the Ladies European Tour