Ian Gilligan beat cancer. Now he’s a successful college golfer at Long Beach State and winner of the CalHOPE Courage Award

Ian Gilligan didn’t know whether he would live, let alone pick up a club and play golf again.

Now a sophomore at Long Beach State, Gilligan was in the fight for his life a few years ago. When he was 15, he was one of 20 kids worldwide diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, one that forced him to spend months in the hospital.

He would spend a week receiving chemotherapy treatments before having two weeks at home. That process continued for seven months, but Gilligan persevered.

Gilligan is the winner of the CalHOPE Courage Award for the month of November. The monthly award honors student-athletes at California colleges and universities who have overcome the stress, anxiety and mental trauma associated with personal hardships and adversity. It is presented by the College Sports Communicators (formerly CoSIDA), in association with The Associated Press.

“It’s an honor to be nominated for the award,” Gilligan said. “I think everything that the award stands for and does is something I strive for.”

Ian Gilligan
Ian Gilligan

Ian Gilligan has two wins this fall for Long Beach State. (Photo: LBSU Athletics)

Golf remained an escape during Gilligan’s time receiving chemotherapy. Because his immune system was so compromised, he couldn’t do many things in crowded places, like go to the movies. But he could spend time on the golf course.

He first noticed pain his his shoulder when playing, and it eventually spread toward’s Gilligan’s armpit. He was having to take Advil on the course just to be able to practice. Then they got the diagnosis.

His first week home after treatment, Gilligan was normally so exhausted, he didn’t have the energy to play golf, instead just trying to recuperate at home. The second week, however, is when he would head to the course.

“Golfing was definitely a get away,” Gilligan said. “Those experiences helped me be more grateful and helped me grow as a person.”

Gilligan was being recruited before his diagnosis, and his dreams to play collegiately and beyond wouldn’t be hampered by being sick.

He originally received an email from Long Beach State asking him to come by campus for a visit, and after talking with his parents, he did just that.

The visit sold him. The campus was close to the practice facilities. Weather was nice year round. It was also close to his coach, George Gankas.

That decision paid off.

As a freshman last year, Gilligan was named Big West Freshman of the Year and to the All-Big West First Team with three top-10 finishes and five top-25 showings. His best finish was second place at the Big West Championships.

This fall, he has continued to dominate. Gilligan has two victories at the Nick Watney Invitational and the Mackenzie Invitational, as well as a strong finish at the Cal Poly Invitational. He’s ranked 21st in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings heading into the spring.

His drive and determination helped him overcome cancer and become one of the best college golfers in the country. That’s why he won the CalHOPE Courage Award, and it shouldn’t be a shock to see his success continue.

“I’m just thankful to even be able to play,” Gilligan said.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek