Back in the game

GRUNDY CENTER – The first golf meet of the season for Grundy Center senior Hillary Samo wasn’t about the numbers on the scorecard.

It wasn’t about the double-bogey she tallied on No. 7. Or the four pars she recorded over nine holes.

For Samo, it was simply about playing golf again.

Nine months ago, Samo’s golf future was in doubt after she was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

That was just a few months after taking third place at the 2013 Class 1A Iowa Girls State Golf Championships, when her Spartan squad earned its Iowa-record 12th team championship.

From celebration to tragedy, Samo kept fighting and returned to the golf course on Friday.

And not only did she compete, but Samo claimed medalist honors with a round of 42 on the par-36 Town & Country Golf Club.

“We always knew she would be back out here. I never had any doubts, and I don’t think she did either,” said Lindsay Freeman, Samo’s teammate and best friend.

It would have been easy to give up. It would have been easy to doubt that a comeback was possible.

Samo refused to quit.

“The feeling is unexplainable. I love my team and we are really close, and to be able to do the sport I love the most, is awesome,” said Samo. “I took it one shot at a time. And after what I’ve been through, having a bad shot doesn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore.”

By her own admission, Samo did have some bad shots.

But those shots paled in comparison to what Samo dealt with in the offseason. The chemotherapy was the worst stretch. Radiation required her to get up early every morning and head to Iowa City. She missed several days of school as she fought through the common symptoms of cancer.

But being able to return to the golf course and share one last season of memories with her best friends has made fighting through the adversity worth it.

“We are very thankful to have her back out here with us,” said Grundy Center girls coach Rick Schupbach. “As a cancer survivor myself, it was so encouraging to see her battle back the way she did and play so well today. I am really excited for her. She is a great leader, and I am looking forward to seeing her have more success this year.”

Samo was given some fantastic news recently though. The Spartan senior made two trips to Iowa City last week and her last test came back completely negative of cancer. Cancer free. She won the battle.

“Hillary has been through a lot. To see her come out of the blocks and shine tonight is an attribute to her and how hard she works,” said Grundy Center boys golf coach Dennis Dirks. “Golf is a game she loves, and she excels at it. She’ll have a great year and the team will do really well, too.”

No one in the Grundy Center community expected Samo’s battle to end badly. They all knew she would be back in action when the team hit the links this month.

But to claim medalist honors her first time out? That seemed so impossible back in July and August.

“When she got third place at state last year we knew there were even more good things coming for her,” said Grundy Center senior Lane Bangasser, the boy’s No. 1 golfer this year. “When we heard the news in July, it was just devastating. It really hits home when it’s someone you’ve spent almost your whole life with. Our small town rallied around her and to see her win this first meet tonight is amazing. It shows that where there’s a will there’s a way. It’s incredible.”

Incredible to most. To Samo, it was expected.

And she delivered.