“When they look different at me, I can think, yeah, I’m special, this makes me feel more outstanding. Of course, the alternative way to look at it is not nice, especially if they look at me like I’m some sort of attraction.”
Jennifer Sräga – tough love and second chances
Jennifer Sräga is both rare and remarkable. Rare, because as a woman who plays golf with a low single figure golf handicap, she can count herself in the top one per cent of all female golfers in the world. Remarkable, because she achieved national team recognition in her home country of Germany before the age of seventeen.
As Jennie started to show more interest in the game, her parents Sonja and Uwe were quick to recognise that with a little more encouragement, golf could be a game that she could enjoy, be with others and perhaps, just perhaps, learn to play well. They arranged for Graham Pottage, a trainer at their home club of Ulm, to help Jennie develop her game, and it wasn’t long before she started to improve her golf skills and became a much better player.
Being aware of other people’s needs is at the heart of the Sräga family; after all, Dad is a physiotherapist by profession, and together with Mum, they developed their practice in the town of Ulm. Steffi is studying Dentistry at the nearby university, and so the care of people and medicine is a consistent theme that comes in useful. “It is good that Dad is a physio, especially when I have to have rehab, like when I had my legs straightened,” said Jennie. Four operations over a short period to correct her ankles were necessary, but with the help of her family, she soon got back to competing.
Behind the smile and her photogenic good looks, is steel-like determination, that from time to time is revealed through a glance or expression that makes it clear to the receiver exactly what she thinks. Jennie works at her golf and has learned to believe in herself, “When I started thinking properly and practising, I realised that I could beat others. I had to learn to believe in myself, and then I could reach my goals. If you find a sport like golf, you have only to keep doing it and never mind what the others say. It’s your hobby, and don’t let the others stop you playing.”
In the early years, Jennie mainly played with her parents and sister and having a friendly rivalry based simply on having fun was one of the best ways for Jennie to improve her game. Each sister spurred on the other to practise more and play better, and so it is no surprise that both have low handicaps, although Steffi is slightly ahead just now.
Jennie knows where she needs to develop her game, “In my swing, the radius is shorter so I can’t hit the ball that far, so I have to concentrate more on putting and chipping. Physically I have to get stronger and optimise everything so that I don’t make too many mistakes.”
Growing up around golf has taught Jennie many life skills, some of which she has been able to transfer to other parts of her life, “I’ve learned lots. I have goals, and the aim is to get better. I have to stay focused and then keep concentrating. I have learned from some rounds in golf that were not so good, to just stay focused and even then, you can still reach your goals.”
It’s not only at golf where Jennie excels: she recently graduated from high school and is now studying for a degree in Pharmacy at the University of Würzburg in Germany. Her friends at college simply treat her as they would anyone else, “My friends don’t mind my impairment.” But that is not always the case for visitors to the school or others who meet Jennie for the first time, “They always look, and I can tell they are thinking ‘Oh, there’s someone different,’ but I can handle it, it’s quite normal for me.” Jennie has learned to have a 360 degree perspective and deals with the internal juxtaposition, “When they look different at me, I can think, yeah, I’m special, this makes me feel more outstanding. Of course, the alternative way to look at it is not nice, especially if they look at me like I’m some sort of attraction.”
Jennie was born with Achondroplasia, which is commonly called short stature, and says, “I’m smaller yeah, but I have a normal-sized upper body, only my arms and legs are just shorter than with other people.” Sonja and Uwe gave Jennie a great start in life, and she realises that her upbringing, in a loving family that treated her no differently, was a pivotal first step. “They didn’t treat me any different because of my disability. They taught me to accept my disability and don’t make my disability an excuse for anything. They put me in a normal school and not a school for disabled people. So, I learned from the beginning that when someone looks at me funny or say’s something bad about me because of my disability, to stay strong.” As a result, Jennie is not about to run off and hide, in fact, quite the contrary. Jennie is motivated to help others know about her disability, “I think one reason why people with disability get separated from the others is non-disabled people don’t think they can ask someone about my disability. Perhaps they feel it is too direct or too personal? I think this barrier could be an artificial problem. If we people with disability are more open and simply say ‘Hello, my name is Jennie, I saw that you looked a little strange at me, do you have any questions?’”
Although Jennie enjoys the competitive side of the game she realises that just getting more women with a disability to start playing golf would be a step in the right direction, “I compete in regular events and I think it’s quite exciting to be the only woman in these tournaments. It’s a pity that women’s golf has not got so big a demand in society and especially when there are women with disabilities, it’s really a pity.” Jennie got an invitation to play in the ‘Diversity Cup’ which was played at the Solhiem Cup in 2019. Six women players with disability from EDGA were joined by celebrities and juniors to bring awareness to the inclusive nature of the sport. “It was an incredible experience, to play the same course as the leading women golfers from Europe and the United States, and to get the applause from the crowds was brilliant. I even signed an autograph or two for the fans. The first tee noise was a highlight, but my hope is that people who saw us play can now realise that golfers with a disability are not only able to compete, but also that we have some really good players.”
Jennie recognises the inner torment that can be associated with living with any disability, while trying to put on a stoic view to life, and advises others to not take life too seriously, “Just live your life. We can’t change it – we have to accept it and so stay strong. Believe in yourself, after all that’s what makes us all human.”
NB: When using any EDGA media, please comply with our copyright conditions