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John Atkinson Undaunted by Lung Cancer

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http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/arti ... 217/SPORTS

Excerpt from article:

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John Atkinson on Friday will play the hardest golf course he will ever play in his life. He will play with celebrities and in front of his family and friends. Television cameras will capture the entire experience. Although he may come close, Atkinson won't break 100.

And it won't matter. The only thing that will is that Atkinson is doing something he loves while he's surrounded by people who love him. It sounds a bit cheesy, but it isn't.

Atkinson, an eight handicap from Omaha, Neb., was picked by online voters from more than 56,000 people who sent in essays to take part in Golf Digest's contest to play Torrey Pines the week before the course hosts the U.S. Open. Atkinson will play in a foursome with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, singer Justin Timberlake and Matt Lauer, co-host of NBC's "Today" show.

But make no mistake. The 39-year-old sales representative will be the star of the show for NBC, which will air the taped round at 2 p.m. June 15. Atkinson was diagnosed last year with Stage IV inoperable lung cancer, even though he has never smoked. And he has never asked anyone to feel sorry for him.

Soon after he was diagnosed, Atkinson played 18 holes with is father. He shot 78, and after he ripped his drive down the middle of the ninth fairway, he thought to himself: "You know, I can't be that sick. Just because I'm diagnosed with it, it doesn't mean life is over."

After his finished four rounds of chemotherapy last June, Atkinson walked 18 holes and shot 82. He's a public-course player who prefers to walk. And he obviously loves a challenge.

"I think the proper thing to say is I hope I break 100," he said in a phone interview. "I have a goal of shooting a bogey round out there. People think I'm crazy. I've come up against some pretty tough obstacles and I've beaten those, so why not take a stab and go for it?"

Don't mistake Atkinson's earnestness as a substitute for preparation. His pre-round work has rivaled Phil Mickelson's.

About 50 friends came out to simulate a gallery during a round in Omaha. Club representatives from Dismal River, a grueling 7,600-yard Jack Nicklaus course in Mullen, Neb., heard about Atkinson's plight and flew him in for a practice round.

He has downloaded information on every hole at Torrey Pines. He knows on which holes he will hit driver, but he will stick mostly with a one-hybrid, which he hits 230 yards off the tee.

It all sounds great, but even Achilles had a heel. Atkinson's will be that he has never played Torrey Pines or even attended a U.S. Open. He has no idea what he's in for.

The first time I played a U.S. Open course the day after the tournament, what surprised me more than anything was the depth and thickness of the rough. To miss a fairway by 10 feet meant advancing the ball 50 yards with a nine-iron. It was an automatic bogey at best and usually a double.

Atkinson laughed when he thought about the countless conversations he has had with strangers who have eagerly offered advice.

"It's fun listening to everyone's ideas," he said. "It's cool how golf has allowed me to talk to so many different people. People you don't even know you end up talking 15 minutes with about a golf course neither one of you has played together."

Ultimately, Atkinson knows why he's playing. He's playing for hope and for the people who need it. He's an advocate for the Lung Cancer Alliance, and he believes that maybe his example -- like the drive he ripped down the middle a year ago -- will inspire others.

"Being diagnosed with lung cancer is a terrible thing," he said. "There's so much that needs to be done with it that people need to just keep a positive attitude and keep doing the things that you love. Do the things that you love. Do them. It helps you live your life and helps you keep a better outlook. It's helped me."

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(Freep.com, by Carlos Monarrez, June 4, 2008)


The information contained in these articles may or may not be in agreement with my own opinions. They are not posted as medical advice of any kind.

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