KAWAGOE (AP) — Clouds began to gather yesterday over Kasumigaseki Country Club, and the matching Swiss smiles of Albane Valenzuela and her brother, Alexis, could not have been brighter. This is their Olympic moment that nothing can spoil.
It’s why Valenzuela, a Phi Beta Kappa at Stanford, gave up her last semester of college golf. Turning pro was her best chance to get back to the Olympics, this time with her 19-year-old brother as her caddie. He is more than a brother.
“He is our miracle,” she said.
Alexis was three when he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. He didn’t speak the first five years of his life — doctors said he might never speak — and the family was told he probably would never be able to attend school. He now speaks three languages.
Is he a miracle? Alexis pondered this while holding an umbrella for his sister.
“I think I’m grateful every day to do what I do,” he said. “In life, I always try to be happy. I don’t know if I’m a miracle for some reason. I’m just trying to be happy. I try to enjoy every moment.”
His inspiration is so powerful that Albane wrote about him for her college entrance essay, mainly the influence he has had on her.
“How he shaped me to become a mature person aware of life’s realities,” she said. “Growing up with someone with autism gives you different perspectives and insights into life.”
The Valenzuela family is unique in so many ways, with golf at the core.
She is the daughter of a Mexican father and a French mother, a resident of three international cities before she was a teenager.
Alberto Valenzuela played college golf at UCLA and was a French Amateur champion playing an exhibition at Evian Golf Resort in 1991 when he met his wife, Diane.
They lived in New York when their daughter was born, moved to Mexico City when Albane was three and to Geneva three years later. She became a Swiss citizen at age 14 and played under the Swiss flag throughout her amateur career.