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U.S. Adaptive Open

Woman whose legs were amputated after having baby is uplifting symbol at U.S. Adaptive Open

July 18, 2022
Cindy Lawrence

Cindy Lawrence hits her tee shot on hole 12 during the first round at the 2022 U.S. Adaptive Open.

Jeff Haynes

PINEHURST, N.C. — They are words nobody wants to hear in a hospital corridor. On a Saturday morning in early 1997, Mark Lawrence’s wife, Cindy, was about to go into surgery at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kan., in a last-ditch effort to save her life.

As Mark, exhausted and anxious, leaned against the wall, he heard one nurse say to another, “At least it’s going to be over today, because this family can’t take it anymore.” Mark was heartbroken. He and Cindy had been high school sweethearts. Now they had two young kids. “I’m, like, she’s checking out,” he recalled. “This is going to be the end.”

A week earlier, Cindy Lawrence gave birth to a healthy girl, Natasha, but at home a couple of days later her feet went cold and the chill progressed throughout her body. She was rushed to the hospital and induced into a coma while doctors struggled to diagnose her. It later was determined she had a triple dose of awful: flesh-eating necrotising fasciitis, invasive group A strep and toxic shock. And every night, Mark was told, “If she makes it until morning, you’ve got a better chance. … But you better say goodbye.”

Mark was telling this story on a summer day at a luxury golf resort, but for a moment he was transported to that Friday decades earlier, when a large gathering of family and friends, including the couple’s 2-year-old son Mitchell, circled Cindy’s bedside for Natasha’s baptism. Cindy’s father, a pastor, tried to lead the proceedings, but broke down. The decision was made that she would be given one last transfusion for surgery the next morning. And as surgeons worked on her, they cut and cut into dead tissue until they found portions that would bleed. That was a good sign. And when they’d removed all they dared, they were cautiously hopeful.

Only one thing was certain: They had to amputate both of Cindy’s legs below the knees because they’d turned black with gangrene. So, this mother of two young children, a woman who thrived at work and play, was about to face the greatest challenge of her life. A couple of days later, she awoke from the coma and received the news.

“Mark likes to tell the story because I don’t remember it,” Cindy, 59, says now with some glee in her voice. “The doctor had gone through all they had done … the amputations, a full hysterectomy, taking out six feet of my colon. ‘You have a bag here and feeding tube there.’ And my response was, ‘OK, what’s next?’ And Mark said at that point, ‘We’re good; we’ve got this.’”

Twenty-five years later, they continually marvel at their lives. This week, Cindy, who became a golf fanatic as she recovered from her illness, is a competitor in the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open that began on Monday at the Pinehurst Resort’s No. 6 Course. She opened with a 95, the eighth-best score among the women.

The Lawrences raised their kids, retired early, and have traveled the world. They’ve parachuted out of planes (Cindy’s idea) and scuba dived. They’ve climbed Machu Picchu in Peru and seen the pyramids in Egypt. And all through the years, they’ve golfed and golfed and golfed some more.

Cindy Lawrence

Cindy Lawrence high fives her husband Mark during a practice round at the 2022 U.S. Adaptive Open.

Jeff Haynes

Lawrence often plays five days a week at her home course, The Club at Westminster, in Lehigh Acres, Fla., and she’s a regular competitor in national adaptive golf events. That led her (without Mark’s knowledge) to submit an entry for the Adaptive Open. And then she got to tell him the incredible news when she was selected for the 54-hole tournament. Lawrence, with a 25.3 index, is the only multiple amputee among the 18 female competitors.

She walks and plays on two curved blades that Mark helped fashion, and Lawrence happily bounces around the course with a near-normal gait. The couple has been paired with people who only notice her legs once she’s swung on the first tee. They both laugh about how their kids love to be out in a public place and people do double-takes when Cindy walks by.

Chatty and outgoing, Cindy said, “I mostly enjoy golf because I’m meeting new people and meeting other amputees. Especially women amputees. It’s a real small group, but overall, I feel like I’ve seen a lot more women playing this last summer.”

Before Cindy’s illness, the Lawrences moved to Wichita from Minnesota and hoped to play more golf. They joined Willowbend Country Club, owned by veteran tour pro Woody Austin. After Cindy was sick—she spent six weeks in the hospital and another six in a rehab facility—golf seemed a natural way to do rehab and find balance on her new legs, which were as bulky as a goalie’s hockey pads compared to the sleek models she sports now. She was on the driving range within a few months.

“I wanted to be able to play with my kids,” she said. “I wanted to be able to do a lot of things I di before. And we pretty much do the same stuff. You have to adjust to the way you do it, but I’ve become a lot more courageous.”

As a pair, the Lawrences are lively and quick to laugh. Mark says that a stranger will inevitably ask what happened to Cindy’s legs. “Sex accident,” he deadpans. Cindy is instigator in the adventures they’ve had, and their chemistry, after all of these years, is obvious. Their bond, they contend, is stronger than ever.

On Monday, as Cindy waited to putt on her ninth hole, Mark kneeled on one knee, and Cindy took a seat on his leg. The words Mark had spoken the day before were echoing. “This is our love story,” he said.