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Overcoming adversity

Grove City graduate and Robert Morris University sophomore Ryan Prokay, pictured here during the U.S. Amateur Golf Qualifier at Grove City Country Club in 2011, was honored this year with the David Toms Award, given to a men's collegiate golfer for overcoming adversity.

PITTSBURGH — There were times when the tics caused by Tourette Syndrome were so severe, Ryan Prokay would hit himself.

Hard.

“The self-hitting was bad,” said Prokay, a Grove City High graduate and sophomore on the Robert Morris University men’s golf team. “I hit myself so hard, I broke my ribs. It was the worst pain I’ve been in in my life.”

Those were dark days for Prokay a little more than six months ago. Nothing quelled the uncontrollable twitches and vocalizations.

School was difficult. The golf course, where Prokay found sanctuary, was no longer an escape.

“It was real hard, especially this fall,” Prokay said. “It was as down as I have ever been.”

Prokay was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome when he was in the third grade, but a vitamin supplement kept the symptoms mostly in check.

But when he was 17 and playing in a U.S. Junior Amateur Qualifier, he became ill. He could barely walk.

Doctors diagnosed him with Lyme disease. The treatment for Lyme interacted with the vitamin supplement he was taking, making it difficult for Prokay to breathe.

He had to stop taking the supplement.

The tics became worse throughout his freshman year in college until they became so bad this fall, Prokay was at his breaking point.

“I had great support from my family, friends and loved ones,” Prokay said. “I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

Finally this winter, Prokay began taking medication that has quelled most of the tics.

“I’m back to where I was when I was on the vitamin supplement,” Prokay said.

Through it all, Prokay still maintained a 3.96 GPA. He also had a 76.3 average on the golf course.

His perseverance didn’t go unnoticed.

The Golf Coaches Association of America gave Prokay the David Toms Award, which is a national award handed out to the men’s collegiate golfer who has overcome adversity.

“It means a lot to me,” Prokay said. “It’s very nice to be recognized with a national award for all the adversity I’ve had to deal with.”

Stress exacerbates Prokay’s condition.

“Especially for me because I’m a perfectionist,” he said. “The more stressful the situation, the worse my tics get.”

Prokay, though, has been able to control them on the golf course.

It does take him longer to set up a shot, calm himself and then swing the club.

During amateur events, he has been warned at times for slow play.

“But it’s never affected the score,” Prokay said. “I’m usually able to compensate.”

Prokay is also constantly controlling his tics in the classroom — a job made easier by his new medication.

“I don’t have to worry about people rolling their eyes and wondering, ‘What’s up with this guy?’” Prokay said. “Now I can focus on the class material.”

Prokay said he is more proud of his GPA than anything he’s been able to accomplish on the golf course.

“That’s my highest honor,” Prokay said. “I work extremely hard in the classroom.”

Prokay is just happy he is able to do the things he once took for granted.

Even walking was difficult because of frequent leg tics. With his Tourette Syndrome under control again and the Northeast Conference championships set for this weekend at Daytona Beach, Fla., Prokay is looking forward to better days.

“I couldn’t do all the stuff I took for granted,” Prokay said. “I’m just blessed that I can now.”

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