By Martin Savidge, Pamela Kirkland and Scottie Andrew, CNN
Debbie Blount is, for the most part, your average undergrad, trying to get through the semester amid piles of homework and a busy after-school schedule.
She enjoys her history lessons but struggles with statistics, a subject she calls the “bane of [her] existence. ”She just declared a major – interdisciplinary studies – and spends a lot of her time studying off campus. And when class is over, she scrambles to change her shoes, grabs her golf bag and walks over to the green to join her teammates in women’s golf – her favorite part of the day.
But barely a year earlier, she was worried that she would not find her place among her classmates 40 years younger.
Blount is a 63-year-old sophomore at Reinhardt University in Georgia and a beloved member of the women’s golf team. She has a few decades on most of her classmates, instructors, and head coaches, but they don’t see her as a mother figure or a grandmother. Instead, they see her as a reliable friend, role model and teammate with an exceptionally straight ride.
As one of America’s oldest student athletes, her friends call her “Ancient Eagle,” after Reinhardt’s mascot. “Ancient” may be a gross exaggeration of Blount’s age, but she likes to think that she gives her young teammates some wisdom.
“It’s a game, we’re in the same boat… we’re really lucky to be doing it,” she said of the things she keeps in mind when playing. “There are a lot more serious things in life than playing golf, and I think they understand some of them. “
She pursued college golf after her husband died
University wasn’t in the cards for Blount when she graduated from high school in 1976. Her parents pushed her to become an X-ray technician, telling her it would be a stable career. They were right, she said, even though she had a hunch that she would have made a good physical education teacher as well.
But before deciding to become a radiology technician, she discussed the possibility of entering university with a guidance counselor, who suggested only one school – Reinhardt University in Waleska, in Georgia, not far from where Blount grew up.
“Reinhardt has always been in my head,” she said.
Golf, initially, was not. Blount entered the golf course at the age of 33 – after meeting her husband, Ben. Her husband loved the game and she wanted to spend more time with him, so she chose golf as a hobby. But Blount, still the athlete, felt “a little motivated”. She made up for lost time with constant training and eventually competed in some local championships. Golf has become part of his weekly routine.
When her husband passed away after a long illness, she moved to Vail, Colorado to teach skiing full time. But when her father passed away a few months after her husband, she found herself without a rudder.
“I was a little lost,” she says.
After their deaths, she came across a 1970s yearbook from Reinhardt University, where her husband’s mother had worked in a dormitory – another sign “calling Reinhardt,” she said.
“I found myself going through these directories wondering if it would have been me. “
Meanwhile, his golf game was getting stale. She lost a championship competing against her friends at her golf club. She asked a young caddy from his club where he played. Reinhardt University, he told her.
“Here it is againBlount thought.
The idea of starting school at 62 was daunting at first. Blount wasn’t sure she could take the lessons full time – but “golf was calling her,” she said, so after meeting Coach Reinhardt and showing off her skills, she vowed to start over. as the first academic year.
She’s been on the team for a year now. While it’s easy to complain about her busy school schedule or the meetings she canceled after a long day of training, Blount said she was just grateful for the opportunity – an opportunity she said. won with skill and courage.
“I’m going to live the dream,” she said. “I look around and I can’t believe I can do it. “
She fits in with her younger teammates
During a recent Monday afternoon practice at the driving range, Blount was relaxed and giddy with her teammates, all in their late teens or early 20s. She made them laugh and encouraged them (at a volume suitable for golf). “The girls,” as she calls her younger teammates, have been thinking about the matching accessories they’ll be wearing at their next tournament.
“We’re getting sharp,” she said of her swing at one point. “But my last name is Blount, I can’t be sharp. “
Blount missed a putt during a drill, shrugging with a smile. She thinks positive thinking is the key to success, but maybe she wasn’t thinking positively enough for this putt.
She talks about her young teammates with the same demonstrative love that she uses when she talks about her dear friends at her golf club. Blount never had children, but she said being with the group of tight-knit young women so often shows her what it could have been like to have a girl their age. Their parents write notes to Blount thanking her for the “wisdom” she brought to their team, she said.
Blount said she was worried she would “not bring anything to the team,” but those fears were unfounded. Lauren Welte, a player Blount hailed as an impressive leader, said the 63-year-old is an “incredible” addition to the team. Initially, Welte wasn’t thrilled to be playing alongside a 60-year-old, but after hitting 18 holes together in the pouring rain – their first meeting – she was completely sold.
Different people have different views on what makes Blount such a vital member of the Reinhardt team. Skill wise, although she doesn’t kick the ball as far as her teammates in her first game, Blount “hits it most directly of all of us,” Welte said, and often shoots in the middle of the field. 80 years.
Evans Nichols, 26-year-old head coach of the women’s golf team, praised the “good energy” she brings to the team, a living reminder that “golf is a sport that lasts a lifetime. “. And while young players can go wild after a bad play, Blount is a symbol of stability, said Bill Popp, Reinhardt’s vice president for registrations and athletics, a role model for students who have yet to. perfected their emotional game.
Motivating the young women on her team to improve their game gave her an idea of what she will do after graduation. While she can still “go into the sunset” with her boyfriend and “play the retirement game”, she thinks she will likely end up coaching young people – perhaps as a graduate assistant at Reinhardt.
For now, however, she’s thinking about the short term: she’s just been nominated for Reunion Queen. She has already recruited the girls to help her find a dress for the event, a request they happily accepted.