By SCOTT COTTOS
FOR THE COURIER
Marissa Schroeder had just had surgery to correct two severe curvatures in her spine in June 2013, and she was prescribed physical therapy to regain strength in her back and shoulders and to be able to perform certain tasks.
It wasn’t easy for Schroeder, who at the time was preparing for her senior year at Gibsonburg High School.
“I think it was mostly creating a new normal: ‘No, you’re not going to bend over to pick that up, but you’re going to bend down and pick that up,'” Marissa’s mother, Janet Schroeder, said.
“I think she just needed to get to where it was in her head, ‘Yes, you can do it.’ They made her do it and made her realize she can do it. It was just a huge hurdle — more psychological, I think, than physical. She’d say, ‘I can’t do that.’ And the physical therapist would say, ‘Sure, you can. You can do it, and you’re going to do it 10 times, right here, right now.'”
And, as they say, knowledge is power. While she was struggling with her perceived inability to get things done, Schroeder learned a lot about Stacy Lewis, whose own case of scoliosis several years ago forced her to wear a brace for 18 hours a day over a 6½-year period before she finally had surgery. Since then, Lewis, a Toledo native, had developed into a top golfer on the LPGA Tour.
“She was kind of hitting this low-point mentality of ‘I can’t’, and I think one of her teachers kind of picked up on that,” Janet Schroeder said. “He sent an article about Stacy for her to read, I think just to kind of motivate her and let her know that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I think that’s kind of what flip-flopped the whole process.
“The light bulb just kind of went on when she read that article. And I read it, too. I think the light bulb kind of went on: ‘I can, I can,’ instead of ‘I can’t, I can’t.'”
Last Wednesday, on the last day of practice sessions and pro-ams before the start of the LPGA Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club, Marissa met the 28-year-old woman who not only became the world’s top-ranked woman golfer, but also an idol of Marissa and many other scoliosis patients.
Lewis chatted with Marissa, who beamed while having a photo taken with the LPGA Tour’s leading money-winner. Schroeder wasted no time in having the picture enlarged to 8-by-10 inches and framed in time to be displayed at her graduation party on Saturday.
“Very inspiring,” Schroeder said of Lewis. “It’s exciting to meet someone who’s been through the same thing and is so successful now.”
During Sunday’s final round, at Marathon’s tent on the Highland Meadows course, company representatives from Findlay presented Marissa with a gift bag containing a flag autographed by Lewis and 2013 Marathon Classic champion Beatriz Recari, a pair of shirts and a Marathon lanyard.
Marissa and Janet Schroeder also walked the back nine of the final round to watch Lewis and playing partner Cindy Lacrosse.
“It was pretty cool,” Marissa said. “I really enjoyed it.”
As Lewis became an accomplished golfer while growing up in The Woodlands, Texas, she accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Arkansas. By the time she was a senior, Lewis’ single curvature in her lower back prompted the surgery, and the Razorbacks’ coaching staff preserved her scholarship. Lewis later rewarded them by winning the individual NCAA title.
Lewis’ doctor performed the surgery in such a way as not to affect her ability to swing a golf club.
“They did a small part for me so I had some rotation because my curve was only in the lower back,” Lewis said while meeting with Schroeder. Lewis had a rod and five screws inserted into her spine.
With the curves in her back having resisted two years of bracing, the one at the top of Schroeder’s back reached 47 degrees, while the one at the bottom got to 52 degrees.
Schroeder told Lewis that her surgery at Toledo Children’s Hospital included the insertion of two rods and 23 screws.
“The whole deal,” Lewis said to Schroeder. “That’s good, though. Obviously, surgery went well. So, just take care of it. That’s the biggest thing now. Stay in shape. Stay active. You can do whatever you want now, really.”
Schroeder mentioned that, a year after her surgery, she still experiences some pain. Lewis said she could relate.
“For me, the first couple of years were, you know, you’re sore all the time and you just get tired and all that kind of stuff,” Lewis told Schroeder. “But after about a year or two, it slowed down and it feels good now.
“Your muscles, in like six hours, are moved from one position to another completely, and that’s why they’re so sore. They’re learning how to hold you up again. So, once the muscles kind of learn how to work again, that’s when the soreness and all that go away.”
While doctors have not pinpointed a direct cause of scoliosis, it has been noticed to have hereditary factors. So, when Marissa was diagnosed as a fifth-grader, it was particularly frightening to Janet, whose father’s curvature reached 55 degrees but was not treated.
“Until the day he died, he struggled with back pain and it was so heartbreaking,” Janet said. “It was just difficult for me to see my dad with back pain, and now this happens to her. It was just so traumatic to think that she would have to deal with the same type of pain that he was dealing with for his whole life.”
Marissa was put into a brace at age 15, and while she wore it 12 hours a day, the curvatures increased and her body began to noticeably tilt to the left. A distance runner in cross country and track, she also felt physical effects.
“When I was running, I could feel I was having a harder time breathing as it kept progressing,” she said.
Eventually, the decision was made for her to have surgery. The operation took longer than expected because of the amount of scar tissue that the surgeon had to make his way through.
“Her muscles had worked so hard to try to keep her spine in place that it was just irritated and scarring this whole time,” Janet said.
In the year since the surgery, Marissa has been cleared for all physical activities again. She’s been running and swimming, and for Father’s Day, she took her father, Steven, golfing. She’s aiming for a trip to Cedar Point before heading off for her freshman year at the University of Toledo, where she plans to study pharmacy.
And along the way, she plans to continue to follow the career of Lewis, who she found to be very pleasant during their meeting.
“She’s someone I can really look up to,” Marissa said.