Caddie Taneka Sandiford battles MS with Amy Olson in her corner

Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports

Caddie Taneka Sandiford battles MS with Amy Olson in her corner

LPGA Tour

Caddie Taneka Sandiford battles MS with Amy Olson in her corner

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DALY CITY, Calif. – On Nov. 1, 2018, Taneka Sandiford went for a jog around her neighborhood in the Bahamas. She got miffed around the 1.5-mark when she started to feel tired. She looked at her watch at 5:12 p.m., and that’s the last thing she remembers. Sandiford, a 24-year-old who played basketball and golf in college, began having a seizure in the middle of the road. Fortunately, the next car that turned onto the street was being driven by a nurse.

Sandiford was rushed to a Nassau hospital where doctors found 20-plus lesions on her brain.

Nearly five months later Sandiford, who caddies for Amy Olson on the LPGA, recounted the details that led to her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis over dinner at the LPGA Mediheal Championship without a hint of anger or self-pity. Even Olson, one of the most upbeat players in golf, couldn’t help but admire her caddie’s outlook.

“During the entire time I never once cried,” said Sandiford, “never once asked ‘Why me?’ ”

Sandiford did ask to switch seats at the Blue Line Pizza in Daly City, Calif., to avoid the glare. Her eyes are more sensitive now and her memory isn’t as sharp. But so far, those are the only differences she has noticed since doctors finally figured out what was wrong. It took three months to get the official diagnosis in Iowa, her mother’s home state.

“I’ve grown an appreciation for the strength she has,” Olson said.

Taneka Sandiford and Amy Olson. Photo: LPGA/Gabe Roux

Olson (nee Anderson) first picked up Sandiford as a local caddie on Paradise Island more than two years ago at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. Sandiford was coaching at Redlands Community College in El Reno, Okla. Olson asked if she’d like to come out on the road for a few events, and in 2018 it was pretty much a full-time gig for Sandiford, except for the handful of events Olson’s brother worked.

Sandiford now views that time with Olson as a divine appointment.

“2018 being with Amy – not that it’s her, I know it’s God – just changed me and made me a stronger Christian,” said Sandiford. “I felt like I had an entire year to prepare for (MS).”

The player/caddie relationship, particularly on the LPGA, is tenuous for many. Few partnerships truly stand the test of time.

Sandiford’s mile-wide smile is the first thing that drew Olson in. She liked that Sandiford knew when to talk on the golf course and when to let her walk 10 paces ahead. They joke about Sandiford having a four-word limit.

Sandiford respected the player/caddie line and, prior to her MS diagnosis, never opened up to her boss.

“Being vulnerable, that’s not me,” said Sandiford. “I have a hard time trusting people. Yeah, she’s such a great person, but I can’t tell her who I really am because she’ll be 100 percent against who I am or the things I used to do.”

She found it tough to open up to caddies too.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” said Sandiford. “I don’t want to have a good conversation with you, and then turn around tomorrow and you end up making up rumors and trying to get Amy as your boss.”

At this point in the dinner, Olson notes that this is the most she’s ever heard Sandiford talk.

Their first tournament together post-diagnosis came in Australia, where the year before Sandiford stayed on at her dream destination to cage dive with great white sharks.

Olson insisted they stay together that first week and was clear with Sandiford about the need for open conversations. They have an employer/employee relationship, Olson said, but they’re also friends.

Sandiford took that as permission to let her guard down. She also joined Olson at the LPGA’s weekly fellowship, though she worried about feeling like a tag-along sister. Just like on the golf course, Sandiford knew her player might need space.

At fellowship meetings, Sandiford felt an easy connection.

“You see their faces and they’re so genuine,” said Sandiford. “I thought, maybe I can open up to certain people. I can maybe talk about a few of my struggles.

Sandiford then flashed a mischievous grin: “I mean, I’m not going to get into the big ones yet.”

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that nearly 1 million adults over the age of 18 in the U.S. are living with MS. Women are two or three times more likely to be diagnosed.

Sandiford said those who grow up in warm-weather climates are less likely to get MS. Her African-American ethnicity makes her an even more rare case.

“Even the nurse the last time I went said I’m probably like one in five trillion,” she said.

There is no cure for the disease that impacts the central nervous system. Asked if she was scared of what’s to come, Sandiford didn’t flinch.

“Not at all,” she said. “I can’t control what could possibly happen. If I think about what could possibly happen, I would miss out on what’s happening now. If in two weeks I could not completely walk again, I would be – not to say completely satisfied – but I would feel so much better knowing that I didn’t say you know what Amy, I have MS, I’m not going to caddie for you.

“I could live the next 80 years without a single symptom. I could start having symptoms on Friday. No one knows the future.”

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