April 29, 2006 -- Dakoda Dowd is the top-ranked female golfer in the nation for the graduating class of 2011, which means she is just 13 years old.
This weekend, while most girls her age are sleeping in, Dakoda competed in her first LPGA tournament -- an accomplishment her mother, sick with terminal cancer, almost didn't see.
When Dakoda was nine and already winning trophies, her mother, Kelly Jo, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The former model had a double mastectomy and thought she had beaten it. But one year ago, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to her liver and bones. They told Kelly Jo she didn't have long to live.
"I was just so beaten down," she said. "I was so hurt."
But it was her daughter who made her strong enough to put up a fight.
"I just had to look in her eyes and I just realized, 'I'll fight for you baby; I'd do anything for you,' " Kelly Jo said. "I didn't give birth to a baby not to be here to raise … her. And I certainly did not give birth to the superstar that I did not to see what she's capable of."
A Dream Come True
Kelly Jo dreamed that she would see Dakoda play in a pro tournament.
When the organizers of the Ginn Open heard that, they made it happen. For the past six months, Dakoda, her mother and father, have done nothing but gear up for the event.
Dakoda didn't make the final cut, but was able to fulfill some important wishes.
For one thing, Dakoda was able to warm up with her golf hero Annika Sorenstam, the top ranked female golfer.
"She is very, very strong," Sorenstam said of Dakoda. "She is mentally strong and she is tough."
Dakoda first picked up a club at 4½ years old and now her drives can soar 230 yards.
"Dakoda has always used golf as an escape," said her father Mike Dowd. "And it now is an escape for our whole family." Kelly Jo skipped chemotherapy treatments this week so she would be strong enough to be on hand for Dakoda's first shot of the tournament, during which Dakoda wore a hat with her mother's initials.
"I got to see one [tournament featuring Dakoda], which is a heck of a lot more than I would have if I had passed soon," Kelly Jo said. "I wouldn't have gotten to see any. So I'm very, very thankful for that."
Despite all her grown-up concerns, Dakoda is still very much a teenager. She loves to goof-off and talk about her boyfriend, and is not quite sure how to behave in the limelight. Asked for autographs, she prints her name. But she would gladly trade all the attention for one big wish:
"That like the cancer will go away -- just silly wishes that aren't going to happen," she said.
Her mother, she said, is "amazing, strong, beautiful, courageous. There's not really just one word that sums it up. … My best friend."
Kelly Jo knows that the odds are against her, but she will keep fighting because there is so much more that she wants to share with her daughter.
"I want to see her go to a special dance," she said. "I want to help pick out her dress. I want to help her with her makeup. I want to just tell her how beautiful she is that night, how proud I am of her. I want to see her get married. I want to see her kids. I want to be a good grandma."
"For more information on breast cancer and the Dowd family's work to grant wishes for women diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, please visit makingmemories.org.