There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as Ball State women’s golf coach Katherine Mowat told the inspirational story of Autumn Duke to a visibly touched audience of nearly 300.
Duke was presented with the Kim Moore Spirit Award at a banquet following the conclusion of the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championships, in Athens, Ga., last Friday.
Duke, a senior in 2012-2013, was a leader and role model for her teammates. Despite the tragic loss of her own role model, friend and foremost, her father, that never changed.
Larry Duke died in a motorcycle accident on her birthday in September. His funeral took place just two days before Ball State’s own Cardinal Classic.
Autumn Duke was there, not just for the tournament, but for everything.
“Even the day after she buried her dad, she was always present,” Mowat said. “She didn’t miss a class. She didn’t miss anything with the team, from a tournament, to a workout, to a practice. She was always there. She was always present.”
Autumn Duke finished fifth in the Classic, just two strokes out of first place. It was the best tournament of her career, and likely the most bittersweet, as Ball State won its first of four tournaments for the year.
She said in her four years at Ball State, she never played for another team as cohesive as this one. The entire team knew her dad. The loss was personal for each of them, not just Autumn Duke.
What resulted was an extremely strong chemistry between the girls. Autumn Duke’s perseverance helped to keep the effect on the team positive, as opposed to pulling it down.
“Basically, the fall was a lot of numbness and shock, and just surviving until the next spring. I would kind of describe the fall as a blur,” she said.
She not only survived, she thrived. And none took notice more than Mowat.
“It came to my mind that there were awards, and recognition that she would be worthy of,” she said. “I’ve never nominated an athlete before, so it was definitely a bittersweet deal where you wish that you didn’t have to nominate her for something so tragic, but since that became our reality, I nominated Autumn for anything I could so that she could be recognized as the inspirational and courageous young lady that she is.”
Autumn Duke probably would have been excited about the award long ago, if she knew receiving it was even a possibility. Mowat made the nomination soon after the accident occurred, but never informed her.
Just four days before the banquet, Mowat was informed that her nominee had won and was asked if she could be make the trip by Friday.
She quickly called Autumn Duke, who was excited, and shocked to know that she had been honored.
The two, along with Autumn Duke’s mother, made the trip and enjoyed the final rounds of NCAA Championship golf before attending the banquet.
Mowat introduced her golfer, leader and role model to the crowd, and received something as memorable as the award itself.
“When I invited her to the stage, there were probably 300 people present, and they immediately got to their feet and honored her with the most beautiful standing ovation and applause. It was so touching, just incredible,” Mowat said.
Attending the banquet meant a chance for Autumn Duke to look back on her season with a new perspective on what she had overcome.
“It’s such a sense of accomplishment for me, that I could have given up, but I didn’t,” she said. “And to know that my peers and other college coaches look at me and acknowledge what I was able to fight through.”