Sterne hits disease for FORE!
Richard Sterne (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - In 2008 at the age of 27, Richard Sterne was at the height of his professional golfing career and ranked No 29 in the Official World Golf Ranking when he began experiencing lower back pain.
“It was nothing serious at first, but there was a stiffness in my back and it just wouldn’t go away,” recalls Sterne.
Within two years, however, the pain had become so severe that he could not rotate his body at all and had lost his full range of motion. As a result, he missed most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons due to injury.
“It was a very frustrating time being at home and I began to wonder whether it would ever improve,” adds Sterne.
He put it down to a sports-related injury and visited numerous doctors, from his GP to physiotherapist for treatment. He also had three bulging discs in his spine, which exacerbated the pain. But in 2011, Sterne visited a rheumatologist who diagnosed him with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a chronic autoimmune disease causing inflammation, especially of the spine.
“It was a relief to know what was causing the stiffness and that it was treatable,” says Sterne.
He tried various medications and was finally granted permission from his medical scheme to use a biologic treatment in 2011. Within about eight months he was back on the professional circuit.
“It took me a while to regain my full fitness,” explains Sterne. “But I took a holistic approach, using exercise to strengthen my back for support.”
In February 2013, Sterne won the Joburg Open by seven strokes, to end a four year winless period. This marked his sixth victory on both the European and Sunshine Tours and came on the back of a second place finish he had in the previous week at the Dubai Desert Classic.
The win moved him inside the top 60 ranking, which meant qualification for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and to the top of the Race to Dubai standings.
Sterne is friends with South African golf icon, Gary Player, to whom he is often compared because of their similar small stature, and has played several times in the Gary Player Invitational charity event to help raise funds for less fortunate children's education.
Although being away from his wife and three month old daughter is difficult, Sterne says being on medication has helped him handle the long haul flights better as he travels across the globe to play in tournaments.
“Finding a treatment for AS has given me my career back,” he says. “I’m looking forward to playing golf professionally for as long as I can - and of course for as long as I want to.”