Lincoln Charter’s Hager swings for success
DENVER – Eli Hager can golf and ski with the best of folks his age.
He gathers his golf clubs, focuses on his upcoming round and climbs into his golf cart to begin play. And often, he wins.
Hager, who turns 14 on July 28, plays on two artificial legs.
The rising eighth-grader at Lincoln Charter was born without tibias, the strongest bones below the knee. His legs were amputated above the knee when he was nine months old.
Hager’s computerized legs – which can be set to walking mode, golfing mode or free mode – propel him around the White Oak Par Three, the golf course where his family lives.
Hager’s first set of clubs were called “Golden Cubs,” in reference to golf legend Jack “Golden Bear” Nicklaus. But Hager didn’t aim to emulate Nicklaus. He took the sport lightly when he started.
“I’ve really picked it up heavily in the past two years,” Hager said.
Playing on an almost daily basis at the par three, 15-hole course allowed Hager to develop his game.
“I initially wanted to try out for tennis (at Lincoln Charter) but I’ve had more exposure to golf,” Hager said. “I gave that a chance last year.”
Hager emerged as one of the area’s top young golfers. He routinely shot the lowest round of any Charter player, and won three awards at the Eagles’ post-season banquet: team Most Valuable Player, the All-Star Athlete award and the No. 1 golfer plaque.
But Hager wasn’t in attendance to accept them. He didn’t know he was to receive the awards.
“Eli is confident in himself, but he’s very modest,” said Bonny Hager, Eli’s mother.
“He didn’t think he deserved any recognition over his teammates.”
Lincoln Charter athletics director Daniel Schmitz said his first meeting with Hager told him what he needed to know.
Schmitz saw a young man eager to improve himself as an athlete and help out those around him however possible.
“I’ve spent some time on the course with Eli and I know that he’s got a great heart,” Schmitz said. “Whatever he puts his mind to, he does.”
Schmitz saw Hager helping teachers at the end of the school year, carrying books and moving things around their classrooms.
“Eli is a very talented young man,” he said. “Some may say he has a disability, but he looks at it differently. He’s an extremely positive thinker.”
Bonny Hager said her son’s mind-set is what helps him achieve his goals.
“‘Can’t’ is not in his vocabulary,” she said. “We encourage him to do whatever he wants.”
His limbs work through an electronic chip inside both legs that enable Hager to walk and bend his knees whenever necessary for a shot. Hager said the playing hang-up he has is when he’s on a downhill lie and trying to hit the ball from an angle with one leg higher up than the other.
“That’s not very easy,” Hager said. “It’s hard to balance like that. But if I hit the ball where I need to on every shot, I don’t have to worry about that.”
Schmitz said Hager has a promising future in golf – if that’s what he wants.
Or, there is his other passion – water skiing.
Hager trains on Lake Norman. He’ll compete in the 22nd Disabled Water Ski Championships, held Aug. 23-25 at Shortline Lake in Elk Grove, Calif.
“When it’s too hot for golf, I’ll go out on the lake and ski,” Hager said.
“Eli has always thought he can do whatever other kids do,” Bonny Hager said.
“And he does. I encourage him to think that way. Eli has always been an exceptional child.”