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Epilogue | Owen Charles Schlaug Jr.

Owen Schlaug overcame polio with ingenuity and resolve

BELLEAIR — Owen Schlaug had a complicated golf swing, but not the kind the pros teach.

As an actuary, he had used statistics to calculate insurance risks. In retirement, he plotted Sudoku over coffee, taken with a little sugar, and the trajectories of dimpled white balls over a golf course.

Golf presented a special challenge for Mr. Schlaug, a standout baseball and basketball player as a boy who was then stricken by polio. He joined his classmates a few weeks after the start of ninth grade without the use of his right arm.

Mr. Schlaug, who was right-handed, learned to write, play table tennis and golf with his left.

He married, earned an MBA and raised a family. He retired to Belleair in 1993, and soon lured his high school and college buddies down for an annual golf tournament that has continued.

Mr. Schlaug, who adjusted to polio with ingenuity and resolve, died March 6 of pneumonia. He was 76.

"I always had a lot of respect for Mr. Schlaug," Jim Slattery, the golf director at Belleair Country Club, wrote in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times. "He was a serious, detailed man. He was a stickler for rules and policies.

"Nothing made him nervous — probably due to what he endured at a young age."

The polio left him with feeling in his right arm but no movement. He could move his left arm but not raise it above his head.

To hit a golf ball, Mr. Schlaug wrapped the fingers of his right hand around the club with his left hand — which held it in place as he began his distinct swing.

He swung past the golf ball.

Then back, like a pendulum.

On the third approach he connected, with remarkable accuracy.

"It was an odd swing," said Eric Pacana, an assistant golf pro at Belleair. "He did the pendulum thing as a way to gain momentum through hitting the golf ball. When I first saw him do it, I thought, 'Wow, that's something most people wouldn't want to do with that disability.' It was an amazing thing to see."

His old friends just shook their heads.

"We would see that and say, 'If any of us ever complain about anything, just slap the hell out of me, please,' " said Dr. Stuart Fink, 76, a former classmate at Flaget High in Louisville, Ky.

Mr. Schlaug was born in Louisville in 1937, a butcher's son. His fondest memories revolved around baseball. He played third base and was named most valuable player after his sixth-grade team won the city championship.

He contracted polio in 1950 and was confined to an iron lung respirator. People prayed. The Vatican sent a picture of Pope Pius XII.

Mr. Schlaug learned a slew of new habits, from combing hair he could not reach to inventing his unorthodox golf swing. At age 17, he shot an 81.

"That's impressive," Pacana said of the score. "Our par here is 71. To shoot (81), a lot of people would love to shoot that."

He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Louisville. He met Marilyn Janes, his future wife, on his way to a master's degree in actuarial science at the University of Michigan.

He bought her William Dean chocolates for Valentine's Day and a dozen roses for their anniversary.

"He wasn't gushy romantic, but he was my sweetheart for 53 years," said Marilyn Schlaug, 78. "That's the way we felt about each other."

He enjoyed adding columns of numbers in his head. Over 20 years commuting from Wheaton, Ill., to his job at the Wyatt Co. (now Towers Watson) in Chicago, for example, he figured he had commuted 250,000 miles on the train.

He was a huge Louisville sports fan and a past president of the Tampa Bay chapter of the university's alumni club. A few years ago, Mr. Schlaug wrote a 168-page book about the club with photos and indices, names and dates.

The project took him two years, his wife said. He typed the entire volume with one finger on his left hand.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.


Owen Charles Schlaug Jr.

Born: Jan. 3, 1937

Died: March 6. 2013

Survivors: wife, Marilyn "Lyn" Schlaug; daughters, Karen Zastrow and Julie Lyons; son, Owen Schlaug III; and four grandchildren.

Mass of Resurrection: 10 a.m. Friday; St. Cecelia Catholic Church, 820 Jasmine Way, Clearwater.

Owen Schlaug overcame polio with ingenuity and resolve 03/17/13 [Last modified: Sunday, March 17, 2013 9:02pm]
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