‘I Play Golf for My Sister’: The Story of Gracie & Bella Walker
By Kevin Hyland
In 2011, there were 3,953,590 registered births in the United States. 131,259 were instances of twins. This is the incredible story of one of those instances. (1)
11 year old Gracie Walker’s love of golf was seeded as a toddler on a single trip to the driving range with her dad, Kelly, and it has blossomed into a drive for kinship and competition that has sent her all over Texas and even as far as Pinehurst to play in big-time bouts against her peers. With her dad as her caddie, Gracie has lifted her fair share of trophies and played events on the NTPGA Junior Tour, The Junior Tour powered by Under Armour, U.S. Kids Golf, PGA Jr. League and Drive, Chip & Putt, and while the shapes of the trophies and names of the courses and competitors change, one thing remains the same… Gracie Walker plays golf for her sister.
“I play golf for my sister. I always have. I always will.”
11 year old Bella Walker, Gracie’s twin sister, has had a materially different journey in golf and life, and these differences date all the way back to their shared time in their mother Natalie’s womb. In the 18th week of gestation, a Level 2 Sonogram revealed that Bella had a rare tumor growing from her tailbone called a sacrococcygeal teratoma, (2) and her status as a twin eliminated many of the doctor’s available interventions. According to Bella’s mother Natalie, her outlook was decidedly bleak but her ‘mother’s intuition’ remained optimistic. Natalie recalls: “We were told she would never live… to say goodbye to her and focus our energy on the healthy twin because she was the only one that was going to survive through birth. But I could feel her life force inside of me. I could feel that she wanted to live.”
And live she did.
Bella Walker came into the world three months premature, and after several reconstructive surgeries and months in the hospital, she joined her sister Gracie and her parents at home. Miracle number one was in the books.
Miracle two arrived when Bella defied the odds to stand, and just before her third birthday, miracle three showed up in baby steps. And by Kindergarten, Bella joined her sister Gracie by playing golf in Scottish Rite’s innovative program, “Learn to Golf”, which is designed for patients with physical challenges and their families. The Walker twins had a blast playing together, and they have returned to the “Learn to Golf” program at Scottish Rite annually since 2017.
Kelly’s and Natalie’s joint decision to introduce their twin girls to a sport that is renowned for building confidence, mental acuity, empathy and an appetite for fun has paid off in spades. “Golf has brought us together as a family,” touts Natalie, “it’s something that Bella can love & support her sister in. And she gets out to play. It’s been a beautiful thing for our family. To grow together and watch our daughter Bella’s confidence skyrocket as a result of playing golf.” Natalie continues, “it’s crazy that this little girl who has no interest in other sports has this beautiful little golf swing.” (And as someone who had the privilege to watch this little SCT Warrior (3) who has seen the other side of 26 surgeries and operations, I can confidently concur that there truly is nothing more beautiful than Bella striking one down the middle.)
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Golf’s impact on Gracie has been equally material, and Kelly and Natalie see the sport and its experiences as a key foundation for the way she interacts with the world around her. Recalling a recent situation where Gracie confronted one of Bella’s bullies at school, Kelly explains, “golf has really given Gracie a lot of confidence, and that helps her with other things in life– like taking care of her sister.” And while winning on the course is something that the Walkers certainly love and value in Gracie’s golf journey, the pride they expressed in this off the course victory was on a whole other level.
1. National Vital Statistics Reports Volume 62, Number 1 June 28, 2013.
2. Sacrococcygeal teratoma (SCT) is a tumor that develops before birth and grows from a baby's coccyx — more commonly known as the tailbone. It is the most common tumor found in newborns, occurring in 1 out of every 35,000 to 40,000 live births.
3. SCT Warrior is a term commonly used in sacrococcygeal teratoma support groups to describe survivors.