Nicole Jeray overcomes narcolepsy to make LPGA Tour
BY DAN CAHILL Twitter: @DanCahill_CST December 7, 2012 1:54PM
For the ninth time in her 20-year career, Nicole Jeray will play with exempt status on the LPGA Tour in 2013.
You don’t have to tell Nicole Jeray to make the most of every waking moment.
The 42-year-old golfer from Berwyn suffers from narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that causes uncontrollable sleep at any time.
Jeray had just finished competing in five pressure-filled days of the LPGA’s qualifying-school tournament on Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla., making birdie on the final hole and shooting a 2-under par. She figured she had made her ninth Tour in 20 years.
“I was all ready to go celebrate,” the former Northern Illinois star said. “But then I looked at my phone for the live scoring and realized there might be a playoff.”
Physically and mentally exhausted, Jeray decided, “I better close my eyes, so I’m ready.”
So, while the other LPGA hopefuls were finishing the round, Jeray went and slept in her car.
Twenty minutes later, her longtime boyfriend and sometime caddie, Jody Keepers, awoke her with the news—Jeray was one of seven players vying for four spots in a playoff. She had only minutes to prepare for what she thought might be her last shot at the Tour. She hit a few balls at the range, stroked a few putts on the practice green and headed back out on the course.
It took five more holes and a 20-foot birdie putt for her to regain the exempt status that had eluded her since 2009.
Jeray was diagnosed with narcolepsy in 1996, the year after she finished in the LPGA’s Top 30.
“I was actually relieved to find out it was that and not Lou Gehrig’s disease or something,” she said. “I didn’t know what I had. It could have been so much worse.”
Still, the early treatments weren’t promising for anyone, much less someone who makes their living playing golf eight hours a day.
“I could never get excited because it would cause paralysis,” she said. “I used to fall 10 times a day.
“I always pushed myself to find ways around the sleeplessness. I don’t even know how I functioned all those years. I would play pro-ams and fall asleep talking to my partner. They must have thought I was weird.”
But through better care of her body and advancements in medicine, Jeray said her falls are down to a few a month.
She has become a huge advocate for the disorder, raising $37,000 for support groups and research through her “Swinging for Sleep” program.
“I really think a cure is within reach,” Jeray said. “I was diagnosed as an adult, but when I see kids with it, it’s heartbreaking.
“I don’t want people to think, you can’t lead a normal life.”
For more about Nicole Jeray and her fight against narcolepsy, go to http://www.nicolejeray.com/swinging-for-sleep/