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LPGA Tour player Madelene Sagstrom is opening up to the larger public for the first time about being sexually abused as a child.
Sagstrom, 28, had shared it previously in Facebook posts and credits sharing her story with someone else as part of the reason she's had success in the past few years. Her story is a part of the LPGA's Drive On initiative and led the tour to begin conversations about resources in place for current and future players who have experienced similar things. The 2020 Gainbridge LPGA winner sat down for a video produced by the LPGA and wrote a first-person story to accompany it.
Madelene Sagstrom’s story is hard to read, but important to hear. One in nine girls under the age of 18 are sexually abused at the hands of an adult.
She shares her story here in the spirit of helping others.
None of Us Are Alone | https://t.co/nFG6lw6mRZ#DriveOn pic.twitter.com/ilkJ5RZMAd
— LPGA (@LPGA) February 22, 2021
Sagstrom shares story of sexual abuse
Sagstrom said she was sexually abused at the age of 7 by an adult male friend in her native Sweden. She said she went home afterward and never told anyone what happened for 16 years. But the secret, and not dealing with it, let her think she wasn't good enough in myriad ways.
"What I didn’t realize is that I simply did not like who I was," she wrote in the piece. "I felt insecure — never thinking that I was worthy enough or good enough. I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror. I couldn’t even put body lotion on my legs because of how much I hated my body, hated myself, all because of what someone else did to me."
She said she thought she would be OK never talking about it. And then in 2016, after joining the Symetra Tour, she was struggling with her emotions on the course. Her mentor, former Ryder Cup player Robert Karlsson, pushed her to "dig deeper and understand the reasons why I reacted the way I did." She kept coming back to the abuse in her mind, but said she would push it aside, thinking it didn't matter.
Sagstrom: Keeping secret was holding me back
In a hotel room in Greenwood, South Carolina, she decided there might be something there and told Karlsson she had been sexually abused. She said she began crying uncontrollably and "16 years of secrets poured out with each tear and every heaving gasp."
"I had no idea how being sexually abused by a man I trusted affected me," she wrote. "All those years, I blamed myself. I hated myself. I despised my body and hurt myself both mentally and physically. That day haunted me. I had nightmares about it and did everything I could to escape."
Karlsson, who met Sagstrom through Sweden's national team, wrote his own short piece for the LPGA about helping someone you care about get through a crisis. The current PGA Tour Champions player saw a change in her on the golf course after that.
"After that, I think she relaxed a lot more in herself and became a lot more comfortable in her own skin," he wrote. "She became less sensitive to what happened around her, especially when she played poorly.
"And by talking about the abuse she suffered as a child, she proved to herself that she had nothing to fear. She didn’t have anything in herself to avoid, feel ashamed of or that she needed to hide. And it definitely took her on a different path where she was more stable in herself and more accepting of herself."
She credits sharing her story with someone else for being able to win three times in 2016 and earn her LPGA Tour card. It started a "new chapter" in her life, she said, and hopes her story can help others find the same page.
"Finding my voice and courage to share my experience has taken time. Survivorship is a continuous process. As a professional athlete, I have the visibility to make a difference and connect with others who may have experienced sexual abuse. If I touch one life by telling my story, it will all be worth it."
What the LPGA is doing about sexual assault
Sagstrom's story sparked conversations within the LPGA about how the organization could support players who have experienced sexual assault, tour officials told ESPN. They hope her story creates an impact.
"There are so many layers of this particular story," Roberta Bowman, the LPGA's chief brand and communications officer, said via ESPN. "If your life is touched with trauma, to have that conversation and reach out to others. If you are lucky enough that you've been spared that, maybe you'll find yourself in the role of Robert Karlsson and having to have that judgment at the very moment, and to create that conversation around how can we appreciate and support people going through their own changes."
The LPGA/USA Girls Golf is ensuring its leaders have the necessary resources to deal with young players who might have experienced sexual abuse. They worked closely with RAINN, the National Sexual Assault Hotline, to share Sagstrom's story and have the hotline listed on all media.
The organization will also be sharing RAINN resources with USGA Girls Golf Leaders this week, per ESPN. It will include information and tips for adults on how to protect children from sexual abuse, how to see warning signs of grooming and how to keep children safe on social media sites.
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