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Natasha Stasiuk: A Champion of Both Golf and Autism

Natasha Stasiuk lives a very active life: she attends Toronto’s Humber College and studies in their Developmental Services Worker program; she works at her local Golf Town in Mississauga, Ont.; she walks dogs; and she’s an accomplished competitive golfer as a member at Heron Point Golf Links.

However, it is how she does it all with autism, and an auditory processing condition that defines who she is.

“It’s like a superpower as I call it,” she said, “and it’s what people with autism call it too.”

Stasiuk, 25, was born in Russia where she was left as an orphan in a run-down hospital. Sick and often unattended, she was slow to develop learning and language skills.

Peter and Sandra Stasiuk adopted Natasha at 13 months and brought her home to Canada, where she displayed above-average hand-eye coordination as a toddler.

Stasiuk has played golf ever since PGA of Canada member Nick Starchuk was brought into her gym class in fifth grade to introduce children to the game.  

“Nick came and he saw a lot of potential in me and suggested I started golf, and that’s how my passion for it came about,” she said.

Starchuk invited Stasiuk to an introductory lesson at the former home of the RBC Canadian Open, Glen Abbey Golf Club. Stasiuk was handed a putter and took to the course’s practice green, where Starchuk instructed her to putt a ball towards a hole that was 30 feet away from her; a putt in which she drained on her first try.

For many years after, Stasiuk was part of a large junior girl’s golf group led by PGA of Canada member, Carrie Vaughan.

Carrie helped Natasha with all aspects of her game, introduced her to competition and provided constant encouragement whenever she felt “out of place” or discouraged because she learned differently and didn’t always understand what was being taught.  

Besides golf, Stasiuk played up to seven other sports when she was younger. Though swimming, soccer, gymnastics, softball and ballet were in the mix, hockey and golf were her two favorites.

“My sister played, I played, my dad played, some of his brothers played,” she said. “So, we were always a big hockey family.”

Despite her family’s involvement in hockey, Stasiuk chose to stick to golf to this day because she admired the LPGA Tour and wanted to be like her role models such as Paula Creamer and Brooke Henderson (winner of five Golf Ontario Championships from 2010-2013).

However, Stasiuk’s auditory processing condition prevented her from thinking and processing what she saw or heard when she was younger, and still affects her to this day.

 “When people start talking to her and they’re talking normal, she can’t process everything that they tell her,” said her father, Peter. “They’ll be on their third sentence when she’s just processed the first sentence they’ve said to her, and by the time she goes back to the conversation, she’s completely lost.”

Peter has always been there to help her in speaking and believes his daughter’s disability has always impacted her because it is an “invisible” one.

“From a lot of people, you can tell what their disability is because it’s a physical disability,” he said. “Looking at her (Natasha), you wouldn’t think she has a disability, but she does.”

Stasiuk originally didn’t know she had autism until a psychologist advised her to test for it almost three years ago. Her auditory processing condition has been with her almost her entire life, which affected her ability to process what people were saying to her or keep count of her own score when she was younger.

“In the beginning, when she joined the junior circuits, the other girls caught on to that (disability), Peter said. “They would always tell her she scored more than what she got, and they scored less than what she thought they scored.”

Peter believed this was always a “disadvantage” for her simply because she took what other golfers said for granted because she couldn’t remember what she actually scored. He always followed Stasiuk around and kept score as a spectator; the scores were sometimes “completely different” from the scores that were reported.

However, thanks to the help of her father and family in adapting to living with her disabilities, Stasiuk has been better at keeping her scores as well as processing what people are saying.

Now, Stasiuk has made herself known as a role model to golfers with disabilities both on and off the course. Off it, she always advises anyone with any disability who is unsure of playing golf full-time to “go for it.”

“You never know what will happen,” she said. “Go watch these people with disabilities play golf, it’s amazing and pretty inspiring too.”

Stasiuk believes anyone with a disability who is new to the sport can quickly make connections and lifetime friends. Just like she did.

“I think she enjoys expanding the game to others that may not look at golf as a possibility because they have a disability,” said Peter. “It’s still a small segment that actually plays with disabilities, but it’s growing.”

On the course, Stasiuk has built quite the résumé in the past few years. She is currently world ranked No. 1-female golfer with intellectual disabilities as per the WR4GD Rankings.

Since 2019, she has been Golf Ontario’s Women’s Adaptive Champion, and plans on competing in this year’s Adaptive Championship at Weston Golf and Country Club in July. She has also been Golf Canada’s Women’s All Abilities Champion for the last three years.

Stasiuk has also finished top five in the USGA Adaptive Open in the past two years and finished first in the intellectual category of that same championship last year. She also finished third in the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin in 2023 and first in the Special Olympics North America competition later that fall.

Although the year has just begun, Stasiuk was one of 12 in the world chosen to train at the first EDGA Development Camp in Portugal, and she recently finished third overall and first for her disability category at the USDGA Championship at the PGA Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Traveling to different places away from her home to compete in each of these championships, as well as making friends along the way, have led to Stasiuk having more confidence in her game than ever before. She feels like she finally belongs.

“It’s good to experience different places in the world,” she said. “I know some of them are back in Ontario, but it’s still nice to play courses I’ve never played before.”

As April marked the observance of Celebrate Diversity Month, it presented Golf Ontario with a wonderful opportunity to share inspiring stories and honour the diverse backgrounds and contributions of our members, volunteers, players, and colleagues. We plan on sharing these inspiring stories–like Natasha’s–throughout the season.