Kurt Kragthorpe: Crash pulls BYU golfers closer
PROVO -- Natalia Jimenez remembers everything and nothing about that spring day in St. George.
She remembers being unhappy when she walked off the golf course after shooting a 77. She remembers being hungry, and discovering that her Brigham Young teammates had already eaten lunch.
She remembers climbing into Hannah Summerhays' vehicle for a ride to Quizno's, home of her favorite sandwiches. She remembers the oncoming truck, at least its "baby blue" color.
Yet nearly six months later, the accident that could have altered their lives forever is something the women describe as a "miracle," and they're not the only ones.
"It's been a beautiful blessing," said Summerhays' father, Gary.
No one would have suggested so that day in May, when the truck hit Summerhays' SUV and knocked it onto its side. Witnesses ran to the nearby clubhouse at Entrada Golf Club and yelled for the BYU coach, because the golf bags strewn on the road gave them a clue about the people trapped in a horrifying scene.
"The picture of that car in my head, I don't know if I'll ever get rid of that," said BYU coach Sue Nyhus.
Having mostly recovered from their injuries, including a fracture in Jimenez's neck, the women are playing golf for the Cougars this fall. They're teammates, roommates and best friends, even after - or maybe because of - the events of that afternoon, when Summerhays was cited for failing to observe a stop sign coming out of the parking lot.
Their friendship has only grown stronger, when it could have been ruined and even torn apart an entire team. "You hear about a lot of situations where friends will hold grudges," Summerhays said.
If Jimenez had done so, "I would have understood," she said.
Instead, the healing began immediately on many levels. Jimenez quickly forgave Summerhays, who is getting closer to forgiving herself.
"I know she still feels it," Jimenez said, "because I can tell by the way she acts. I told her tons of times not to feel that way."
They were unlikely friends, in some ways. Not a member of BYU's sponsoring church, Jimenez is from Colombia, which has produced several men's and women's golfers for the Cougars. She stands out on campus with spiked, frosted tips in her dark hair. Summerhays, who arrived at BYU a year later, is from northern California. As her name suggests, she's an extension of Utah's most famous golf family, a niece of Champions Tour player Bruce Summerhays and a cousin of three golfers who have played the PGA, LPGA and Nationwide Tours.
"Just from the beginning, we clicked," Summerhays said. She discovered that Jimenez loved golf as much as she does, always eager to practice and offer advice, unlike the unfriendly rivals from her junior golf days.
On the course, it was a frustrating freshman year for Summerhays, then BYU's No. 7-ranked player. Only five golfers could compete in postseason tournaments. Wanting to support her teammates, Summerhays drove to St. George to watch them play in the NCAA West Region Championship.
That's the background of how everything turned upside down after the first round when when Summerhays' vehicle tipped onto its side, requiring rescue workers to cut off the roof to free them.
After a golf tournament in Colombia, Jimenez once was riding with a driver who lost control of the car and it flipped over, and she walked away. Not this time. Jimenez was flown to University Hospital in Salt Lake City; she would wear a neck brace for two months.
Summerhays, whose left arm was pinned under the vehicle, spent a night in a St. George hospital and would need therapy to be able to bend her fingers.
Summerhays' parents wanted her to come home to California, but she insisted on staying in Provo through the spring semester. Her motivation: Jimenez's condition. "You have to take care of her," she told herself.
"She appreciated the fact that I cared enough to be there for her," Summerhays said recently. "I think she felt that I was truly sorry."
Jimenez was scared, though. She wondered if she would ever play golf again. She worried about what her parents would think of her potentially ruined career. When they arrived from Colombia, "They were shocked," she said. "They didn't know what to do."
She cried every night for a month, and suffered more when her teammates were playing in the NCAA Championship without her and she could only monitor their hole-by-hole scores via the Internet.
The two have talked only a little about the accident itself. Jimenez still wonders how it happened; Summerhays can guess only that she was fiddling with the radio or air conditioner as she pulled out of the parking lot.
Yet amid her own tears and pain, Jimenez would not transfer any of it to her friend. "I said, 'Hey, it's not your fault, please don't feel that way. I know it's hard.'
"I know she's feeling guilty," Jimenez said. "I'm not going to make her feel that way."
Especially not now, when there's a happy ending.
About three months after the accident, Jimenez was cleared to play golf again and won a tournament in Colombia. Since rejoining the Cougars, the junior has finished third, first and second among her teammates in tournament play this fall, even with some discomfort - cold weather will make it worse - in her neck that doctors say may persist for two years.
She smiles almost continuously while talking easily about everything that's happened this year, which has increased her appreciation of the game. "Right now, I have the passion for golf, stronger than ever," she said. "This is what I want in my life."
For Summerhays, who made the lineup for BYU's most recent tournament (the team's fall schedule concludes this week in Las Vegas), recognizing that golf is not everything in life was a breakthrough. She's no longer quite as tough on herself on the course. She also learned "just to take life a little more slowly," she said. "You can work your whole life for something, and in one second, it can be gone."
In this case, it's all still there for the two of them: their golf games, their friendship and their futures.
"The way everything worked out is a blessing," Summerhays said. "I still have my best friend."
"Right now, I have the passion for golf, stronger than ever. This is what I want in my life."
- Natalia Jimenez