Karen Darrington overcomes serious injuries to return to championship form
by Rob Lundgren
Someone once said, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” That old saying has never been more true than in the case of Idaho golfer Karen Darrington.
A six-time Idaho Golf Association Women’s State Amateur champion, Darrington almost lost it all last October when she was struck by a car and seriously injured. Darrington was in a group of mourners leaving a funeral at a church in Boise when she was hit, fracturing her skull and sustaining other serious injuries including a broken sacrum and bleeding on the brain.
She was one of nine people injured when an 86-year old man, a friend of the family of the deceased, apparently lost control of his Toyota sedan and crashed into the crowd. Darrington landed on the hood of the car and fractured her skull when the vehicle swerved and she hit the pavement. Miraculously, every victim survived and recovered, including Darrington, who spent eight days in the hospital.
“I was walking out to my car, and I stopped to talk to a few friends along the way,” Darrington says now. “But I don’t remember being hit and I’m glad about that.”
Despite the extent of her injuries, Darrington, who is in her mid-50s, didn’t require surgery and says that giving up the game she loves was not an option. “It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t play golf again,” she says.
Darrington was at home, “lying in bed, taking it easy,” when she received an invitation to represent the IGA at the 2014 PNGA Cup, an annual Ryder Cup-style competition held each May between the four Northwest golf associations under the PNGA umbrella. That invite got her off the couch.
“Yes, it definitely was an incentive,” Darrington admitted. “I look forward to playing that event every year. It’s a wonderful event.”
She got back on the course in stages. “I putted a little, then the first of March I started swinging a club. It felt pretty good out in the backyard. I felt perfectly fine so I went and hit some golf balls.”
Darrington returned to competitive golf in late April and competed in the PNGA Cup in May, posting a 2-1 record, winning both her team matches with partner Kareen Markle of Meridian.
Genger Fahleson, executive director of the IGA, praised her friend’s remarkable comeback. “It’s incredible, terrific,” she said. “Karen’s playing as well as she’s ever played, and she’s at the top of her game.”
Fahleson, who has played with Darrington many times, agreed that playing in the PNGA Cup was a motivating factor in Darrington’s recovery and was not surprised at her early return to competition. “She mentioned to me it gave her something to work towards,” she said. “She took the challenge and came through. She’s very competitive; she does not like to lose.”
Her accident was a terrible, humbling, and gratifying experience, says Darrington now. “Just the amount of love and compassion shown to me and my family has been very humbling,” she said. “All the cards and letters…just the number of people who told me they were praying for me. I think that helped me heal.”
A Twin Falls native, Darrington’s introduction to golf was unexpected, taking up the game as a freshman at Brigham Young University. “I was going to school playing basketball and one of my friends who was on the golf team talked me into trying golf,” she recalled. “The coach had me swing a club, and I joined the team.”
That was in 1977 and just two years later Darrington won her first IGA Women’s State Amateur title. Five titles later she still loves the sport. “I like the individuality, going out trying to beat the golf course,” she explained. “It’s also great being outdoors and the camaraderie with peers and friends.”
Darrington’s family – she and her husband have three adult children – also play, and one of her favorite golfing companions is her oldest son. “We just like to play together,” she said.
And, of course, Darrington has plans to continue her golfing comeback. “I’m playing really well and my doctor says my recovery is ahead of schedule,” she explained.
This summer Darrington plans to play in both the Idaho Women’s Mid-Amateur in August and the IGA Senior in September. However, she will skip this year’s Idaho Women’s State Amateur. “They’re playing the final round on Sunday and I don’t play on Sunday,” she explained.
Despite her recovery, all is not perfectly fine. Darrington still can’t taste or smell because her olfactory nerve was severed in the accident. “I can taste salt and I can’t tell if something’s sour,” she said. “I also still have this chemical vapor smell in my nose.” It’s possible the nerve can regenerate itself, but until then Darrington promises, “I’ll just have to be patient.”
One thing is still certain – she’ll be out on the golf course. “For sure,” she said with a smile. “I want to play golf for the rest of my life.”
Rob Lundgren is a freelance golf writer from Meridian, Idaho.