A dying man's wish

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:10 PM ET

A man struggled to make the step up onto the stage the other day in the media centre at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club, a frail man who moved slowly and seemed to summon all his strength to face the challenge of the final step.

But there is no question the face that beamed down at Carol Letang and the hand Lorena Ochoa offered him would be all he needed to lift him.

How high?

Ochoa herself probably could never guess.

"I'm still on Cloud Nine," said Letang yesterday, "and I'm going to be on Cloud Nine for a long time."

It was but a few minutes they spent together. Ochoa, ever gracious, the gold standard for champions in any sport, kissed Letang on the cheek, signed programs and hats for him and his wife, Mary Bowles, and posed for pictures.

Most significantly, she looked him in the eye.

She spoke. She listened.

The minutes together meant everything to a dying man.

Letang, 68, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour in his lung in December. He has had chemotherapy, which he said yesterday has at least stopped the growth of the tumour. He is scheduled to go for more tests and scans Monday and to meet with his oncologist after that.

What lies ahead?

He doesn't know.

But Wednesday's meeting with his favourite golfer, arranged surreptitiously by Mary, has given a man who counts his time carefully a shining moment. None of us can know the value or the benefits of an uplifted spirit for a man in a battle like the one in which Letang struggles now.

"It was the greatest day of my life," he said. "God, she makes people feel so good."

Letang has long felt an affinity for Ochoa's native Mexico and its people. He fell in love with the country and the people he and Mary met there during numerous vacations. A golf fan, he felt it was only natural to cheer for this young Mexican girl who came on the scene five years ago.

"I started caring and started cheering for her and then it was like, 'Wow, the person I'm cheering for is No.1 in the world,' " said Letang.

About a month ago, Mary mentioned the CN Canadian Women's Open would be coming to Ottawa, not far from their home in St.-Emile-de-Suffolk, Que., between here and Mont Tremblant.

ENERGY DRAINED

Letang, his energy drained by chemotherapy, would wearily slip off to bed each night and Mary busied herself on the computer, firing off e-mails to try and arrange an audience with her husband's star. Tournament director Sean Van Kesteren came through with an offer to meet Ochoa after her press conference. The new Days Inn Ottawa Airport across the road from the Hunt Club put them up in a free suite.

"It was awesome, the way it all happened, the way it all fell into place," said Letang. "I didn't know a thing about it."

This is a story about golf, a gift from a champion, of love and two women who made a dying man's life, for a few moments, a sunny, dazzling place.

"Really, it is a love story," said Mary. "It was beautiful for us. From the bottom of my heart, it really is a love story, as simple as that. I did it because he is my king. I'll do anything for him. When cancer hits you, it hits you so hard. You do as much as you can for the little time you have left together. I hate to see him go this way, but we are doing our best."

BEST FRIEND DIES

It has been a difficult time, as you can imagine. In addition to Letang's battle, there was the blow of having his best friend pass away last Sunday. Carol and Mary will drive to Gatineau for a memorial service today and perhaps, if Carol's strength allows, a chance to watch Ochoa tomorrow.

She stood atop the leaderboard after the first round yesterday and Letang's voice rose excitedly when told the details, a 66, all 18 greens hit in regulation. Maybe, perhaps, the chance will be there to see her win?

"It doesn't matter," he said. "She will always be a winner to me."

Ochoa climbed to the top of a leaderboard 155 names high yesterday.

There is no measure of the height she took a dying man and his devoted wife.


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