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AU has had a big year.
Eighteen months ago, Michelle Wie West stepped away from professional golf when severe pain from her latest injury left little to no enjoyment for her out on the course. Turning her focus to joyful events in her personal life, she got married a few months later (to partner Jonnie West), and then the duo became a trio when their daughter Makenna arrived this past June.
In a recent conversation with Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast, Wie West revealed she had always planned to retire from professional golf once she started a family. While there are countless surprises for new mothers in their first year of raising a small human, one that is often confounding is how you’ll feel about your career and your level of desire to return to it. One surprise for Wie West has been a newly re-lit competitive fire. (And we hope it’s not the lack of sleep or breastfeeding endorphins talking.)
By far the toughest moments of Wie West’s career have been the onslaught of injuries she’s had to overcome. She’s dealt with neck, back, hip, knee and ankle issues over the years, but the real demon has been the ongoing problems with her wrist resulting from a fracture that never healed correctly back when she was seventeen. It was intrusive pain from this thirteen year-old wrist issue that left her in tears after her last attempt to return to form in a June 2019 tournament.
Over the last two days, my phone and my inbox has been overflowing with messages of support and love. And even though I was having trouble playing, the crowds were cheering me on, applauding the good shots, and yelling phrases of encouragement when I was struggling.— Michelle Wie (@MichelleWieWest) June 22, 2019
It’s no wonder Wie West always felt like her body was against her.
“I just got to the point where I expected it, I expected the worst from my body,” she tells O’Hara. But the experience of pregnancy and new motherhood completely changed her relationship with her body. Creating a whole new human being and bringing it into the world left her in awe of what she was physically capable of. Instead of an adversary in the way of her athletic goals, she began to see it with an entirely new perspective.
“It definitely taught me to be a lot more forgiving of my body,” she explains to O’Hara, “I have so much more respect for my body now.”
An even bigger spark in relighting her competitive drive came when Wie West found out she was having a girl. As a youngster, Wie West learned about toughness and perseverance from her own mother. Her mom, Bo Wie, had been a serious golfer, dancer, and pageant contestant for many years.
“My mom had a very competitive side to her too and I really looked up to her for that,” she tells O’Hara. “She would tell me stories about how many blisters she got on her feet from training all day long and I kind of saw that as a badge of honor. I was like, ‘That’s so cool. I should be doing that.’”
What women in your life #InspireGreatness?— KPMGWomensPGA (@KPMGWomensPGA) June 18, 2019
"Definitely my mom, the way she raised me & I hear all of her old dance stories & all that. I think her being an athlete as well has definitely helped to help to relate to me & to kind of guide me through that process." @themichellewie pic.twitter.com/vPELFHhcuX
This early impression of what it means to be a strong woman, combined with a 5’7” and 165 lb physique at age 10, resulted in Wie West confidently competing in a variety of youth sports even when she was the only girl. Her enjoyment at bridging the athletic gender gap was evident later on during the numerous times she accepted invites to play in PGA tournaments, starting when she was just 14 years old.
Now with a daughter of her own she’s realized she’s not quite done transforming the public perception of what sportswomen are capable of.
“The moment I found out that my baby was a girl really changed my perspective on the world and how I want to leave the world for her,” she tells O’Hara. “I want to lead by example, and that’s the driving force now to get back.”
The final piece of kindling fueling this comeback fire is the joy Wie West has experienced out on the course with her new family of three. As a kid, her favorite thing to do was spend the weekends golfing all day with her parents. Now, golfing with her new husband and their even newer baby girl is helping her reconnect with the reason she fell in love with the sport in the first place.
“It’s definitely brought that childhood joy back,” she tells O’Hara with a smile in her voice. “Having that inspiration, I think it drives you in a very different way.”
Consider it another chapter in Wie West’s ongoing story. First the child prodigy, she’s now the resurgent mother.
Listen to Michelle Wie West’s full conversation with Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast here.
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