Inspiring Golfer and Diabetic

Diabetes, Diabetes Type 1, Diabetes Type 2, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on June 1, 2010

Michelle McGann was swinging a golf club by the time she was seven. "I'd hit a good drive and want to do it again," Michelle says. "And it was something I got to do with my dad."

When she was 11, she was playing softball too—until a line drive slammed her in the right eye. She had three operations in one month to correct double vision: The surgeons could make her eyes work together when she looked down or up but not both. She chose down, a good choice for a golfer. For the next five months, she practiced golf wearing huge goggles. ”I was very shy, so it was a lot for me to go out in public with those goggles," she says. "But that showed me I had a will to succeed, no matter what."

That will was tested again when, at age 13, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. "I thought, 'Diabetes? What the heck is that?' I remember asking if I could still play golf."

She accepted a new diet — no more Mountain Dew and unlimited pizza — and traveled to Canada every five weeks or so for five years to participate in a diabetes drug study. "I was off insulin for five years," she says. "And then the drug stopped working."

She also pushed harder on the golf course. At 17, she was named American Junior Golf Association Rolex Junior Player of the Year, at 18 she joined the LPGA Tour, and in 1993, at age 23, she led the U.S. Women's Open after four hours of play. "But my blood sugar was getting lower and lower, and then I didn't even know where I was," Michelle says. "I blew six or seven shots."

If the cost of her diabetes has sometimes been high, the rewards are high too. Twelve years ago, she and her family started the Michelle McGann Classic for the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, raising more than $1 million over the three years of the Classic. She continues her work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation by doing meet-and-greets with young diabetics at some of the 25 to 30 tournaments she plays around the country each year. She and husband Jonathan Satter have also started the Michelle McGann Fund, raising money for organizations that help young people with diabetes. "I can be a role model for kids who might not have one," she says. "My biggest goal is to let them know that they can control diabetes, not to let it control them."

When Michelle, now 40, is not teeing off, she's making scrapbooks with photos and memorabilia or paintings that she often gives to friends. She also enjoys water sports in her hometown of West Palm Beach, Fla. "I love going out in a boat late in the evening and enjoying the calmness," she says.

She has earned her calm: "There have been times like the U.S. Open when I say, "Man, if I didn't have diabetes, maybe I would have won. But then there are the times when I talk to a little girl with diabetes, and she walks away knowing she can do anything. Then it all comes around."