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In honor of National Mentoring Month and on this Thank Your Mentor Day, Kara Larson, an administrative coordinator for Kuder, extends her thanks to the man who served as her first mentor.

The person who has been my biggest mentor started off as my teacher, then became my coach, and now is a lifelong friend. His name is Mr. Stewart, and I'd like to share some very important lessons that he instilled in me.

I first met Mr. Stewart in middle school, where he was my P.E. teacher. My first impression of Mr. Stewart was that he thought pretty highly of himself, but I couldn't blame him because he seemed to excel in every sport. I really enjoyed having Mr. Stewart as a P.E. teacher because he was funny, he loved working with kids, and he had charisma.

He helped me see my potential. 

During my middle school years, I developed an appreciation for Mr. Stewart because I felt that he saw qualities in me that I didn't know I had. At the time, Mr. Stewart was the head coach for high school girls' golf and the boys' varsity basketball teams.

In seventh grade, I ran track but wasn't thrilled about it at all I and dreaded it every day. I was very much a competitor at heart, but I knew I would never “win” at track events because I was not naturally fast, nor did I have any jumping abilities.

When I would complain to Mr. Stewart about how much I disliked track, he would tell me that I should try out golf and that he could coach me when I started high school.

He encouraged me to try something new.

With Mr. Stewart’s encouragement, I decided I wasn't going to go out for track in eighth grade and I was instead going to spend my time after school developing my golf game.

When I told Mr. Stewart that I had started practicing my golf game, he seemed to be very proud of me, which motivated me to keep it up. He made me believe I would be a great asset to the golf team when I came in as a freshman; but I knew I had to work hard to prove it.

Golf season started in the spring of my freshman year. I was intimidated and shy. Mr. Stewart could see the doubt and fear on my face, but reassured me that I had what it took to be great at the game.

I couldn't let him down. I kept working hard and would even stay late after practice to receive more help and tips. Each year I would develop my skills more and more, but I couldn't get the negative voices out of my head.

He supported me even when I’d given up on myself.

Anyone who has ever played golf competitively or even recreationally knows how much golf is a mental sport. Bad thoughts = bad results. Mr. Stewart would tell me, “The only enemy is the one between your ears.” Mr. Stewart saw me cry more times than I can count because my thoughts would get the best of me when I felt pressure.

He could have thrown in the towel and given up on me completely when I broke down, but he didn't. Instead, he would throw out a motivational saying or something witty and it would calm me down or make me smile.

Fast forward to my junior year: I made it to the Iowa High School Athletic Association golf championship, but didn't play my best because I put too much pressure on myself.

Mr. Stewart was always there, though, encouraging me that I was “good enough” to compete and beat the best players in the state. I ended up finishing in sixth place, which wasn't bad, but I was upset with myself because I let my head get to me … again!

He taught me to stay positive no matter the circumstances.

It was my senior year of high school and the day of the golf tournament that determined whether I was going to advance as a qualifier in the Iowa High School Athletic Association golf championship.  Naturally, I was more nervous than ever because (in my mind) it would be the end of the world if I didn't make it.

Mr. Stewart realized that he couldn't give me constructive criticism because I would take it too personally, so he just did his best to instill positivity. I found out that I was going to play with one of the top golfers in the state that day, but I tried to keep my focus.

I got on the tee box on a par-three hole and hit my shot right in the water because, instead of focusing on where I wanted to land my shot, I told myself don't go in the water. This got my blood boiling, and Mr. Stewart could tell so he just gave the look of “shake it off,” and I continued on.

After finishing nine holes, she was beating me by a few strokes. I knew that if I didn't change my mindset to a brighter outlook, I was going to fail fast and not make it to state. From there on, I completely focused in and told myself, “I'm a good golfer and I have what it takes.”

On the back nine, I sunk a 10-foot putt and I my confidence skyrocketed! I could tell that this affected my opponent, and I ended up winning the tournament to advance to state.

Mr. Stewart was instrumental in changing my mindset from negative to positive and helping me visualize how I wanted to finish that round. His reoccurring phrase was, “Don't be too hard on yourself, and just have fun!”

He helped me overcome fear through a positive attitude.

To this day, I try to turn any uncomfortable feelings or bad situations into something positive. Mr. Stewart led by example and made me believe that while you can't always control the outcomes of your day, you can always control how you react to them.

Fear is in all of us, whether we want to admit it or not. There is always something out there that's going to make us feel uncomfortable. Sometimes fear can paralyze our dreams.

During many rounds of golf, I feared the unknown. You can never predict how a round of golf is going to go, so the outcome is always unknown: will you finish in victory or unsatisfied?

There is also the fear of bad weather, since golf is an outdoor sport. We had to play in rain, snow, high winds, hot weather, etc. As long as there wasn't lightning, we were out playing. If Mr. Stewart heard us complain about the weather, he would respond with, “Everyone else has to play in it, too, so you just have to be mentally stronger.”

I learned that complaining isn't going to make the weather improve, so I needed to be mentally tougher than all the other girls out there if I wanted to get a step up in the field.

Today, I take what I learned from this lesson and apply to my life. I never know what the outcome of any day will bring; all I know is that I can control how I react to unplanned events or obstacles. I now see everything as a lesson that can be learned, and I believe everything does happen for a reason.

I also love the saying, “Do something every day that you are afraid to do.” I strongly believe in this because when I do things that I'm fearful of/uncomfortable with, I gain so much more confidence and realize the things I'm often scared of aren't even real; they're just thoughts in my head telling me I can't do it.

He gave me the confidence to realize a dream.

After the state championship tournament in my senior year, I began to think about where I wanted to continue my education after high school and if I should consider playing golf in college. Mr. Stewart believed I had what it took to be a college golfer, and he thought I could receive a scholarship. This got my interest, so I visited with the head golf coaches at several colleges.

A few golf coaches invited me to enroll, but I wasn't being offered as much scholarship money as had hoped. I started wondering if golf should be a part of my future.

My sister suggested I apply to a local business college. At first I thought she was crazy, but I called them the next day. I spoke with the golf coach and he offered me a full-ride scholarship!

I was in complete shock. When I signed with the Women's Golf Program at AIB College of Business, Mr. Stewart was the first person I told outside of my family. I could tell he was very proud of me.

I'm grateful to have had a mentor like Mr. Stewart. He saw me through good times and bad. There were plenty of doubts, long hours, hard work, tears shed, and defeat; but with that came laughter, victory, lessons learned, and unforgettable memories that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

My favorite words of wisdom from Mr. Stewart: “If you're early you're on time, if you're on time you're late, and if you're late don't come.”

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