Cerebral Palsy No Obstacle for Sandburg Women’s Golfer Anna Duden

Each time Anna Duden drives to Carl Sandburg College from her home in Gifford, she passes a landmark along Interstate 74 that serves as a reminder of how far she’s come. 

At just 10 days old, Duden stopped eating. Her parents took her to nearby Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, and she stopped breathing for 17 minutes. She was then taken by Life Flight to the Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, where she spent more than six weeks in intensive care and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

“It's kind of cool because on my way here, I drive straight through Peoria,” said Duden, a freshman on the Sandburg women’s golf team. “Seeing the hospital where I was at, it’s weird and it’s crazy.”

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s mobility, balance and posture. It’s the most common motor disability in childhood, with about 1 in 345 children having been identified with CP. Duden, who wore braces until she was in third grade, described her case as mild and affecting her left side, notably her foot, leg, eye and hand.

“It just affects my joints and how I walk, mostly,” Duden said.

But it’s never stopped her from a love of sports. Growing up, she participated in softball and volleyball, and she’s played golf since she was 11.

“My parents didn't treat me any different, so that always helped,” Duden said. “My sister didn't treat me any different. I was thrown into all sports, so it's just not been an obstacle.”

She got her first set of golf clubs from a friend and started hitting balls in her backyard, aiming for the merry-go-round 45 yards away on the neighboring playground. Not long after, she went to a youth golf camp and was hooked on the sport.

Other than a waiver that allows her to use a cart in competitions instead of walking, cerebral palsy doesn’t affect Duden’s golf game. The evidence is on her scorecards. She posted an 89, her best score in competition, during sectionals as a senior in high school, and she carded an 84 on her home course shortly before heading to Sandburg. In her collegiate debut last weekend, Duden finished third in the Charger Invite.

“My swing may look a little bit different, but if I get the same result, it really doesn't matter,” Duden said. “They treat me like any other competitor. And I'm very competitive myself, so I need that.”

Duden and her family discovered Sandburg after they began to look into colleges during her junior year of high school. She met with Chargers coach Gail Hannam on Zoom, took a campus tour last winter and made a commitment.

“I really like her as a coach,” Duden said of Hannam. “I've learned a lot so far, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season, playing some new courses and meeting new people.”

Duden plans to earn her associate in science at Sandburg and then transfer to a four-year school. She isn’t certain what she’ll major in, but pre-physical therapy is an area of interest. Working as a physical therapist or PT assistant, she said, would allow her to show others that the problems they might be facing can be a temporary impediment.

She’s already proving that on the golf course.

“It can mean that there's a chance,” Duden said of what she hopes others can learn from watching her. “If you work hard and try your best, there's nothing you can’t do.”

Anna Duden swinging
Carl Sandburg College freshman Anna Duden watches her tee shot on the third hole at Bunker Links during the second round of the Charger Invite on Sunday in Galesburg.

Carl Sandburg College freshman Anna Duden tees off on the fifth hole at Bunker Links during the second round of the Charger Invite on Sunday in Galesburg.

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