If there’s a silver lining to a devastating diagnosis, Kylie Nizolek has certainly found it.
Nizolek was in fifth grade when she was airlifted one frightening day to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston from Hilton Head Hospital so doctors could better treat her weakened body and failing organs.
The active young athlete was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and just like that her days of playing vigorous sports like competitive softball and lacrosse seemed over. But as she recovered, she began looking at her backyard a little differently: The family — including parents Beth and Mark and Nizolek’s two sisters — lived in Pinecrest, and after she and her dad walked the golf course one day, she knew she’d found her new sport.
“It is the hardest sport that I’ve ever played,” said Nizolek, 20. “It’s a team sport, but not really. It’s nice to have a team to rely on in tournaments and everything, but you know that you need to do your best and show up to play.”
And boy, has she shown up to play. By sixth grade, she was good enough to play in Bluffton High School’s home matches, and by seventh grade she was traveling with the team, making a name for herself and helping Bluffton High become state champions in 2009 and 2011 — her eighth grade and sophomore years.
“We had a pretty close team at the time, so it was a lot of fun,” Nizolek said. It wasn’t long before colleges came calling; Nizolek was recruited by five or six college teams and ultimately chose to play golf for Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina.
“The location and the coaches and what the university had to offer made it stand out,” she said. “It’s awesome, I love it.”
She wasted no time making a name for herself on the college circuit.
“In my first college tournament, I came in second place and was two strokes off of being first,” she said. “I got off on a really high note.” Such early success could have backfired if she had put more pressure on herself, but Nizolek said her wins only fueled her self-assurance and her drive to improve.
“It did boost my confidence knowing I belong here,” she said. “I know I can shoot better or just the same as the girls I’m competing against as a freshman.”
Nizolek and her teammates practice six days a week on the golf course, with strength-training and cardio workouts three times a week as a team. In addition, Nizolek is insulin-dependent, so she gives herself four to six shots a day, including every time she eats and before bed. But she says her condition hasn’t slowed her down.
“I am like (my teammates) but I just have a little bit more to handle,” she said. “They know that I have it, and I’m able to deal with it.”
Nizolek plans to major in sports management and minor in sports communication; she wants to work for a sports agency, probably in Charlotte, the adopted city she’s grown to love. That is, unless something else comes up.
“I would love to play competitively after college but we’ll see how things go,” she said. “If I’m able to play pro, that would be awesome.”