2004: Competition - A second chance
Something caught the train engineer’s eye as she slowly approached the station in Horsholm, Denmark, 20 miles north of Copenhagen. It was dark, but from 90 feet away the white object lying across the track seemed large enough to cause concern. She peered through the night to try to discern what it was. She slowed the train slightly. Horror struck when she was only 30 feet away and the object moved.
She was right to be alarmed. A human being was lying across the track. It was 18-year-old Christopher Svendsen. The engineer slammed on the emergency brake, but it was too late. Svendsen had not been able to get entirely out of the way.
Miraculously, he survived. Svendsen lost three fingers from his right hand, but had he not moved just before the train passed, there is no telling what would have happened. He is lucky to be alive.
Only the thumb and forefinger remain on Svendsen’s right hand. Yet he continues to cling to the slimmest of hopes that he might still achieve his goal of becoming a professional golfer.
It was the night of Oct. 20, 2003. Svendsen had been invited to a party, but he told his mother he thought it might be boring and he wasn’t sure he’d enjoy it. She told him to stay home, but Svendsen felt obligated because a longtime friend who had been in Portugal all summer wanted him to go. He went, mostly because of his friend. At first the party was boring and he was on the verge of leaving for home, but soon other friends he had not seen all summer arrived and he decided to stay. He wishes now that he had heeded his mother’s advice, or left when he had the inkling to do so.
Svendsen succumbed to the peer pressure all teen-agers face. Some partygoers started drinking shots of whisky, and Svendsen got sucked in. He remembers the first round of shots, but nothing after that. His next memory is waking up the following morning.
“I woke up and realized I wasn’t in my own bed but was in some sort of hospital,” Svendsen said. “A nurse was standing over me. I had no idea how I got there. I asked her what had happened to me but she said she had to get the doctor. The doctor came and told me I had been hit by a train the night before and lost three fingers of my right hand. I had been dreaming of a career as a professional golfer for so long and in that instant it was taken away from me.
“The shock was too much. I passed out.”
Svendsen was in the hospital for 10 days, during which time he thought he was having a bad dream. When he got home, the reality set in that he had to get on with the rest of his life.
“The pain of the accident is nothing compared to the pain of trying to decide what to do with my life,” he said. “Golf is everything to me, and to face the future like this hurts more than anything I’ve ever felt. I’ve always known that I would be a professional golfer.”
Five months later, he is still unsure how he came to be lying on the train track. He and a friend had taken a cab to the station from the party. The friend, as drunk as Christopher was, left Svendsen on his own to go home. Christopher says he must have tripped as he was walking and passed out next to the track.
“I realize now that I am lucky to be alive,” Svendsen said. “If I hadn’t moved when I did then the train would probably have killed me. It was also five minutes early getting into the station. That was lucky too, because the driver was taking her time. If she had been late or close to her schedule then she would probably have been going quicker and I probably wouldn’t have moved. I might not be here telling you my story.”
Svendsen’s dream of becoming a pro golfer was more than mere schoolboy fantasy. The chances of that happening looked good until last October. At 6-foot-7 and 187 pounds, Svendsen played to scratch at Kokkedal Golf Club. He was a regular member of the Danish national team. Last summer, he impressed everyone watching the British Boys’ Championship at Royal Liverpool.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Holder was at Royal Liverpool last year, and was impressed with Svendsen.
“Christopher showed a lot of heart during the British Boys, winning several matches simply by refusing to lose,” Holder said. “He was an intriguing prospect because of his size and an impressive golf swing. What has happened to him is truly tragic.”
Titleist representative Jonathan Loosemore is another who was at Royal Liverpool. Loosemore was scouting potential Titleist players for the future. Svendsen’s name was on Loosemore’s list.
“It’s just unbelievable what has happened,” Loosemore said. “He was such a good prospect. He stood out at Royal Liverpool, not only because of his size, but because of his golf swing. He was definitely on my list as one to watch for the future.”
Acts of contrition for past sins nearly always come too late, and that is certainly true in Svendsen’s case. He knows he made a huge mistake when he took his first drink on that fateful night.
“I know now that when you aren’t used to alcohol, it goes straight to the blood,” Svendsen said. “I didn’t then. I thought it was just going to be a bit of fun. I’m not saying I had never had a drink before, but it was only the occasional beer. Nothing like what I drank that night. Golf was too important to me. But everyone else was doing it (drinking), the golf season was finished, and I just got caught up in it with everyone else.
“This has really been a lesson learned in life for me. It’s easy to take things for granted when you have no worries in life and things are going your way. People always told me to get an education just in case golf didn’t work out. Like anyone else, I thought, well, nothing’s going to happen to me. I was wrong. Four hours of fun and your life changes in a way you could’ve never even dreamed about.”
He says he hopes his story will help others to think things through, unless they want to risk paying high consequences, as he has.
“You have to take responsibility for your actions in life, and you have to learn from them,” he said. “I have. I’m not saying that if you are a sportsman you shouldn’t drink at all, but you have to think if it’s worth it. I’m proof of what can happen if you cross the line.”
Svendsen is now training with an insurance company to be a salesman. However, he has not given up his dream of playing professional golf. He has started lifting weights, and started hitting balls again in mid-February. In July, he will be fitted for a prosthetic hand, but says he will not be able to play golf with it. He will attempt to play by gripping the club with the remaining two fingers of his right hand.
“Many people have overcome handicaps to play at the top of their professional sport,” he said. “I’m determined to get back. I have spent too many hours at this game to throw it away without even trying.
“What do I have to lose?”