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Karyn Danielian keeps the faith

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On the surface, the newsy tidbit from newly opened Shining Rock Golf Club appeared little more than a delicious twist of fate.

On May 1, Karyn Danielian, the wife of the club’s first head professional, Lee Danielian, registered the Northbridge layout’s first hole-in-one - and the third of her career - acing the uphill, 147-yard, par-3 15th with a 9-wood.

The story, however, is really much more than a serendipitous twist of fate. It has more to do with a twist of faith - all kinds of faith, including faith in one’s self, in the medical profession and in the support of a loving family.

In 1996, Karyn Danielian was diagnosed with breast cancer, told she had just 3-5 years to live. Steadfast in her defiance of that bleak future, she maintained a positive attitude and did whatever she could to take back control of her life.

Fourteen years later, she is cancer-free.

Her strapping husband, one of the best professional golfers in New England, marveled at his wife’s inner strength as they struggled to absorb the initial diagnosis. Who could have known then that he would one day draw upon his wife’s inspirational stand against cancer in his own battle with the effects of multiple sclerosis?

“She was amazing. It almost sounds corny, but it’s true,” Lee Danielian, said of his wife. “She was amazing. I was in awe. I remember saying, ‘I don’t know how I would have handled it when they said to you, best case, 3-5 years.’ She was 46 at the time in 1996.”

Danielian, 61, sensed something was wrong with him as long as 15 years ago. But the insidious disease, like many neurological afflictions, didn’t hit him with a haymaker. It kept jabbing at him until he knew he needed help.

After leaving his job as head pro at Framingham Country Club to attend to his ailing wife, Danielian sensed there was something wrong when he went back and tried to play a round.

“I felt like I couldn’t control myself,” he said. “My balance was getting worse and worse.

“In the last two years it got really, really bad. I was tripping and falling down all the time. I didn’t know what it was.”

At first, Danielian was told he had vertigo. But neurological problems are not easy to pinpoint.

Danielian realized his right leg was dragging, and sought more medical help. Doctors then thought he might have ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, because of that illness’ “dropped foot” syndrome. He was fitted with a brace and began using a cane.

“If you take a perfect step,” he said, “it’s heel on the ground first, then toe. That’s why I wear a brace. It’s to help my toes go up. They keep going down.”

It took multiple tests to rule out ALS, and all that time Danielian thought about a former rival on the New England circuit - the late Jeff Julian, who succumbed to ALS within three years of being diagnosed. Danielian said it was almost a relief to get the MS diagnosis last June after he had the fatal ALS. His battle now is to find a way to keep his MS from getting worse. He knows it’s not likely to improve. Currently he’s undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

“My competitive golfing days are over. I can still go out and play it as a sport. But as far as being competitive, no,” Danielian said. “I’ll have a day or a (nine-hole run) where I can shoot a couple or a few under, but on the whole, breaking 80 would be a nice feat, actually.”

Danielian has an impressive talent for passing on what he knows about the game in his lessons. Though he tried to earn a living playing again, his game was too adversely affected by the ravages of MS. His route to Shining Rock included some teaching at Wachusett and more recently Hopkinton.cw-2

“By virtue of my relationship with the people at Hopkinton, who are the people who purchased Shining Rock, they wanted me to come over here as their head professional,” said Danielian, whose local support group includes fellow NEPGA professionals Bob Molt, Jeff Bailey, Paul Parajeckas and Hopkinton professional Dave Lane.

Danielian will continue to do some teaching at Hopkinton, but will wotk predominantly at Shining Rock (where there are plans for a driving range in the future). Operating out of a trailer for the first year, long-range plans call for a new clubhouse by next April.

Danielian, who spends time during the winter at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Fla., speaks with his close friend Dana Quigley nearly every day. Rhode Island native Quigley plays at Bear Lakes when he’s not on the Champions Tour. Quigley is currently out of action with a shoulder injury.cw-2

Though Danielian can no longer compete, golf remains a big part of his life. Since he played at such a high level, adjusting his standards is proving tough.

“What do I do with the game I love? I just don’t know,” he said. “Dana would always keep pushing me. But I’d play one, two, three holes and feel like laying down.”

Talks with fellow Bear Lakes players John Havlicek, the former Celtics [team stats] great, and Richie Guerin, a former New York Knicks star, have helped.

“I also called (sports psychologist) Bob Rotella,” Danielian said. “He said, ‘Of all the golf you’ve played and won, this is going to be your biggest challenge.’ What got my attention was when he and Dana said the same thing - ‘What if a year from now you are in a wheelchair? Wouldn’t you wish you had gone out there and shot whatever?’ ” . . .

Students interested in lessons from Danielian can reach the pro at Shining Rock by phoning.

By Joe Gordon

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