Golf Champion Nora Lucas Overcomes Disability, Pursues Career to Help Others
The Glenview native was recently among with top Illinois finishers at the Big Ten women's golf championships. Challenged with dyslexia, the North Shore Country Club's most famous alum is planning a career in law to advocate for others with disabilities.
When she first took to the course at Glenview’s North Shore Country Club, 7-year-old Nora Lucas might have thought golf was for the birds.
“[My grandmother] took me to the second hole," Lucas recalled. "There was a bird house on the left side of it. My grandma said, ‘If you can hit it past the birdhouse on the tee, it’s a good tee shot.’ That’s always the good benchmark – whether I can hit it past the birdhouse on the left.”
Since then, Lucas has mastered the birdhouse – and a lot more. The just-graduated University of Illinois star has resolutely seized the greenest of games for herself, body and soul.
And the lessons of the game haven't just helped her all the way to the 18th hole. They have also supported a full life, one where she has had to overcome dyslexia, a learning disability, to succeed in both athletics and academics.
But while the lifelong Glenview resident is good enough to try for a professional career, she is choosing another path. Lucas vows to help others similarly afflicted, personally and professionally.
In doing so, Lucas says she’ll maintain her base at North Shore, where she first learned golf and where she has worked with fellow Glenview lifer Heather Penn, her coach, mentor and friend.
So, when Patch recently sat down with Lucas at the Club to talk about her game and career, it only made sense that Penn would join. The course shimmered in its late-spring color through the picture window of the dining room despite a heavy rain. As she spoke, long at 6-foot-1 and leanly muscled, Lucas looks every bit the toned athlete who gave up basketball in high school to concentrate on golf.
Starting a new course
In February, Lucas’ 11-under-par 205 captured the University of Wisconsin’s Westbrook Invitational in Phoenix. In May she graduated from the University of Illinois with a 3.60 grade point average. This summer she is caddying as usual at Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette. But she’s also starting her life’s real calling.
A year before Lucas plans to start law school, she is working as a researcher at the University of Chicago’s environmental law clinic.
“If you’re a top [Big Ten] athlete, you don’t have time for an internship,” Lucas said.
Lucas says she ultimately hopes to work as an attorney who advocates for the disabled. She’ll draw from her own experiences – and a relationship very close to home.
Chloe Penn, Heather Penn’s 13-year-old daughter, also has a learning disability similar to dyslexia. “What goes in, she has difficulty getting back out,” said the elder Penn.
“Chloe and I are really tight,” said Lucas. “The first thing I tell her, always listen to her mother. [The disability] sucks. You just have to be patient.”
“Nora says [to Chloe] to never give up. It’s hard,” added Penn.
Dyslexia symptoms start in first grade
Lucas’ own journey of accomplishment and overcoming hurdles began in first grade at Glenview's Our Lady of Perpetual Help School.
“I told Mom I was in the 'dumb reading group' – the purple group,” Lucas said. “ I had a difficult time sounding out words, which I still do to this day. Spelling was awful. Biggest thing was actual dyslexia itself – seeing words in different orders. I would read the sentence backwards or skip entire sentences themselves. At the time, I thought that’s how everyone was, that’s how everyone read.
“It wasn’t ‘till high school that I had a chemistry teacher say I think there’s something wrong with you. I just worked really hard. I’ve never been one to make excuses. The [golf] course doesn’t owe you anything. Life doesn’t owe you everything. I was 16 and junior in high school. There’s no prescriptions you can take.”
After graduating from Loyola Academy, Lucas found a welcoming athletic and academic environment at the University of Illinois.
“One of the biggest reasons I was attracted to Illinois is they have one of the oldest disability programs for people in wheelchairs or people with learning disabilities,” Lucas said. "They scan your textbooks on the computer. The computer reads it for you, and highlights the words. You hear it in audio and then you visually see it. I can completely read everything clearly. They have a whole testing center and they read questions in exams. They have note-takers in class for you.”
No pro for Lucas
Lucas says she will now will help others rather than pursuing a pro career, while continuing to play at the amateur level.
“Could she pursue a professional career and succeed at a professional level? Absolutely,” said Penn.
“I don’t disagree with her,” said Lucas. “But [chasing the pros is] practicing from dawn until dusk. To be out there by yourself, you’ve got your whole life in your car. If you’re not in the Top 35 on the LPGA tour, you’re not making money. You’re losing money. I don’t want to be driving in my car around the country in a car by myself.
“My biggest competition is right here," she said. "I’ve got to keep up the game so I can beat Heather.”