Linking sports to life: Middlebury golfer Harry Bane turns serious adversity into inspiration (video)
October 17, 2008
Editor's note: Since this story was written, Harrison Bane was named the New England Intercollegiate Player of the Year by the New England Intercollegiate Golf Association at a ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 19 in South Yarmouth, Mass.
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MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -- When Middlebury senior Harry Bane talks to a group of school children, he always starts with a picture. After many years of speaking to school groups, he knows that to inspire children you must first capture their imagination.
His choice of photo might surprise some. To grab their attention, Bane shows them a picture of himself at age 14 with a complex leg brace - evocative of a medieval torture device - that he had to wear for nine months. "But it's not just a picture of the leg with a brace," he says. "It's me playing basketball or golf with it on. Their first question is, 'How is it possible for you to be running around with that thing on and 17 pins going through your leg?' I tell them that I wasn't going to let it get me down. I wanted to do it, I thought I could do it, so I did it."
If ever a story was inspirational, it's that of Harry Bane, an economics major from Marblehead, Mass. From age four, he battled an extremely rare form of bone cancer - only 250 cases diagnosed worldwide - that ravaged the bone in his right leg and necessitated 13 complex surgeries over several years. He figures he spent about six months each year on crutches. Despite the incredible challenges, though, he emerged as a talented athlete in baseball, basketball and golf. He came to view each surgery as a new call to redouble his efforts and improve his skills even further.
Bane admits he's gotten tired of telling the cancer survival story, as he calls it, for the millionth time. It's still an important detail of his life story, but now he likes to re-focus the story on what he's been able to do as a result of the strength and wisdom those experiences gave him.
When golf coach Bill Beaney asked Bane - as he asks most of his players - to get out in the community and talk to school kids, Bane took the opportunity to adjust his message and develop some ideas that would resonate with kids today. During one outing last year, he spoke to a group of 100 kids from schools in the Adirondacks.
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"There are three points I try to make when I talk to them," he says. "First, you have the choice to make good decisions in your life. If you make one good choice every day it becomes habit over time and it becomes part of who you are. Second, never, never give up. No matter what happens, if you keep at it, you can always get through it. And the last one is, 'If you think you can do something you can; if you think you can't, you're right!'"
Bane knows the kids have heard these messages before, but he thinks his own living example of how those principles helped him through some very tough times convinces them that the ideas are more than empty words.
Over the years, Bane says, one of the most important things he's learned in both golf and life is to focus on the process much more than the end goal. As golf captain this means intensive team building and getting to know the players personally. As a student, he applies this approach in his classes - a lot more now than when he was a first-year student, he jokes - to make sure he's getting the most out of any project. In fact, as he leads the college's golf team to what could be its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years, he believes a focus on process is the only path to success.
And Bane has certainly tasted success at Middlebury. He has earned NESCAC and New England All-Conference awards and led the Panthers to a NESCAC championship and an NCAA tournament appearance. Off the course, he has given his time to several area organizations including College for Every Student, peer counseling and local youth golf associations.
After the persistent health anxiety of his childhood, Bane has enjoyed a reprieve of sorts during his time at Middlebury. "My identity in high school was 'He's the kid with cancer who plays sports.' Most people here at Middlebury know very little or nothing about it, which has been great," Bane says. He has had no sign of cancer for several years and says his college career has let him reinvent his identity free of health problems.
Coach Bill Beaney says that even among the many standout athletes he has coached over two decades, Bane has distinguished himself. "Harry Bane is the finest gentleman and best leader I have had the pleasure to be around," Beaney says. "He has used his past experiences of overcoming great adversity to become a tireless role model and friend for all who meet him. He is, simply, the best."