There are stories. And then there are grab-a-tissue, heart-skipping, joy-filled stories that provide the fuel for everything else. Stories that stick to your insides.
Watching a once-bullied Haley Moore emerge as the hero of the NCAA Championship for Arizona was movie-script worthy. There’s no “cheering in the press box,” but we root for stories and people that inspire.
Stacy Lewis was destined to win last year’s Portland Classic so that she could donate her paycheck back to Houston. In August, a very pregnant Lewis was up on a ladder removing nails from the ceiling of Alfredia Brooks’ water-logged home. Lewis took part in a 24-hour build on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.
We long for stories that transcend.
At the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur, Alexis Valenzuela was kind and brave enough to talk publicly about his battle with autism for the first time. A then 15-year-old Alexis was on the bag that week for big sister Albane, an Olympian and star at Stanford. Born in Mexico and raised in Switzerland, Alexis didn’t speak for the first five years of his life.
When he was 3 years old, a doctor told the Valenzuelas that he couldn’t go to a mainstream school and might not ever talk.
Alexis, now 17 and fluent in three languages, called from Miami last week where he was preparing to compete in the Doral Publix Junior Golf Classic. He wants to play college golf like Albane. Wants to change the world with his new charity endeavor.
It took a team of seven people and hours of therapy each day for Alexis to be able to tell his story with ease.
“Every time I talk about my story,” said Alexis, “I only see open mouths.”
That’s especially true in the Bahamas, where the family recently moved.
The reaction Alexis received from sharing his inspiring and transformative story at that ’17 Women’s Amateur reminded him how fortunate he was to beat autism. It also sparked an interest to use golf as a means to help other children facing similar battles.
To raise awareness and funds for research, the driven teen created “Alexis for Autism,” and set a date for his first charity event at Golf Club de Genève on June 27, 2018. The family set a goal of raising $10,000.
By the time Albane and Alexis teamed up for the 2018 ANA Inspiration in April, where Albane was competing on a sponsorship invite, Alexis had already raised $40,000 and his event was still months away.
Pascal Grizot, the man who brought the Ryder Cup to France, donated a golf bag signed by the two captains for the event’s auction. Franck Riboud, the man who brought an LPGA major to Evian, France, donated a stay-and-play package for the championship’s pro-am in September. Two guests were to be picked up in the new Evian One speedboat in Geneva and taken across the lake to stay in the luxurious Hotel Royal.
Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley spoke at the dinner, and Albane visited with each golfer on the par-3 17th, where she tried to help contestants make an ace for an extra $10,000 donation. Every birdie that was made from the field that day gave an extra $100 to the cause: an autism research project focused on early intervention from Geneva University and supported by the Fondation Pôle Autisme.
Alexis’s inaugural event raised over $280,000.
“My mom started to cry a little bit just because she worked hard on it with me,” said Alexis. “My sister was just screaming in the house of happiness. It was just unbelievable the amount of money we raised on that day.”
At the 2018 Evian, caddies wore bibs with the “Alexis for Autism” logo printed across the back.
The 2019 edition will take place in the Bahamas. In 2020, they’ll likely take it to Mexico.
Alexis hasn’t decided who will benefit from this next event but wants to find an association or medical research project that’s not well known and in need. He likes the idea of helping something small grow to impact the world.
Alexis is a believer in miracles. He has lived one.
“It’s a rare story in that it started badly,” said Alexis of his childhood, “but ended up in something extraordinary.”
The kind of story that made my year.