On a cloudy day with no breeze, Manuel De Los Santos stands at the tee wearing typical golf attire—a white ball cap to match his argyle sweater vest, a black polo, and a pair of khakis. But when he walks up to address his golf ball, it’s with the help of a pair of crutches. Tossing them aside, De Los Santos stands tall above the ball, winds up and smashes it long and straight down the fairway. His swing is flawless. On the golf course, it’s as if the motorcycle accident that took his left leg above the knee never happened. Here on the course, De Los Santos finds his second leg.
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, De Los Santos played baseball, dreaming and planning to get to the Majors like so many of his countrymen. He was set to turn pro at the age of 18 in 2003. But that year, his life changed forever when he lost his leg in that motorcycle accident. The heartbreak was unimaginable. Just like that, his lifelong dream of playing professional baseball was snatched away.
Crushed, De Los Santos moved to Paris and attempted to start his life anew with his wife Elena. “Paris opened the door for me,” he has said. There he saw The Legend of Bagger Vance, Robert Redford's movie about a down-and-out golfer who recovers his game with the help of a mystical caddy. De Los Santos says the experience changed his life. Almost immediately, he found his way to a golf course and starting hitting 2,000 balls a day, using the grip he had previously used to crush baseballs. Friends witnessed De Los Santos practicing out of a bunker, left for the day and returned later to see the one-legged golfer still practicing his newfound craft out of the same bunker. Golf had become an enduring passion.
In a game that can take a lifetime to master, at the age of 25, De Los Santos found himself on Kingsbarn—which some call the Pebble Beach of Scotland—competing in an elite pro-am tournament. If you looked at the scorecard, it would appear the tenacious Dominican had a decent round, shooting 76. But playing with only one leg and a pure heart, his score was phenomenal.
Since his round in Scotland, De Los Santos has become a three-handicapper. But don't let that fool you. Gavin Dear, his pro playing partner, told The Times (UK), "I think he may be the best three-handicapper I have ever seen."
Unlike most amputee golfers, De Los Santos refuses to wear a prosthetic to balance out his weight. To power the ball 300-plus yards down the fairway with just one leg, he maintains a powerful core with a rigorous exercise regimen. The training pays off. “[He] normally has to hop through his swing to lessen the great momentum he produces at impact,” reports aolnews.com. Also, you won’t see him using a golf cart to get around between shots. He uses his crutches, insisting, “I’m an athlete. I walk.”
For De Los Santos, finding his second leg on the golf course isn’t just a literal expression—it’s spiritual. Spiritually speaking, he found another chance to be an elite athlete. Tragedy strikes all of us at different points in our lives. Whether they are emotional or physical, we all experience setbacks. De Los Santos teaches us not to let the setbacks keep us down and, instead, to find new ways to compete and elevate our performance, be it on the court, field or in life in general.
What’s your second leg, your motivation? What drives you to rip off more reps, study harder or practice more than your teammates? What are your dreams for your life beyond the field of competition? Let us know by posting on our Facebook page or tweeting us @STACKMedia, and tell us what Manuel De Los Santos’ story means to you.