Tya Seth has always sought connections.
Seth, 17 and an incoming senior at Lake Oswego High School, has looked for those connections at school, on the golf course and in her personal life.
Last week, the West Linn resident was honored for helping create those connections with others when she was named winner of the Play It Forward award at the 2017 Oregon Sports Awards.
The Play It Forward Award was created to recognize high school and college athletes who are inspirational role models in their community. Seth received a $2,500 scholarship as the 2017 winner.
Helping youngsters succeed
For Seth — a longtime volunteer with The First Tee of Portland and a member of the Lake Oswego girls golf team — those connections mean more than anything. The First Tee works with disadvantaged children ages 7 to 17, and according to its website, aims to build "values that strengthen their character, and (guide) them in becoming responsible adults through the game of golf."
Helping young people succeed in their goals has long been the focus of Seth's volunteerism.
"One of my kiddoes, I went to watch him in a tournament and saw him make his first birdie ever," Seth said. "He ran over, gave me the biggest hug ever and said 'All my gratitude goes to you. Thank you so much.'"
A talented golfer in her own right, Seth helped the Lake Oswego girls golf team finish second in the Three Rivers League, win a berth to the Class 6A state tournament, then placed 11th individually at state while her team finished fourth.
But the connections she's made through First Tee and her work at The Children's Course in Gladstone are worth more to Seth than any string of birdies or sub-par rounds.
The Play It Forward award recognizes high school athletes for their dedication to athletics and giving back to the community, and to nonprofit organizations in Oregon that are committed to getting kids active through the Play It Forward Fund, sponsored by
Nike and Providence Health & Services.
A long connection
Her connection to First Tee stretches back to when she was 9 years old and began her own initial foray into golf at The Children's' Course. She came to the course with her older brother K.T. and her two cousins, boys who seemingly took up and excelled at every sport they tried.
Except for golf.
When Seth's brother and cousins decided that golf wasn't really for them, it just increased her desire to learn the game, prove to them she could be good at something and be better than them, too.
"They didn't like it so I decided I'd do it and be good at it," Seth said.
That said, Seth got so much more from First Tee and her mentors than anything related to swing mechanics and putting instruction.
"It was just the people here (at The Children's Course) that kept me coming back," Seth said. "I love my mentors and what they did to help me become a better person."
Foremost among Seth's favorites at First Tee was her first mentor, Carol Erwin.
"She was the one who made me want to work and learn," Seth said, noting that Erwin attended the Oregon Sports Awards and came on stage to congratulate Seth after she won the Play It Forward award.
More than golf
As a youngster, however, Seth didn't just come to The Children's Course to learn golf. Sure, that may be what got her in the door initially, but it was the connections she made — with Erwin, her ensuing mentors and other youngsters — that kept her coming back.
Seth's own need for those connections arose from her unique family history. When Seth was 1, her parents decided they no longer wanted to raise a girl — "It was an Asian parent thing," she said — and she was adopted by her aunt and uncle.
As she grew up, she began to learn about her family dynamics, and how to deal with the repercussions.
"My (biological) parents didn't want to raise a girl," she said. "They kept my brother and not me and that was hard."
She spent the next 4-5 years taking lessons at The Children's Course, working with First Tee volunteers and learning First Tee's Nine Core Values and Nine Healthy Habits. The Nine Core Values are: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgement. The Nine Healthy Habits, segmented into three groups, are: Physical (energy, play, safety), Emotional (vision, mind, family) and Social (friends, school, community).
Moving to mentorship
Then, around the age of 13, Seth began to give back. She shifted from player to mentor and began to share the lessons that had benefitted her life with other young golfers.
"Everything they taught me here, I incorporated into my lifestyle," Seth said. "Spreading love of the game has always been a passion, and putting others before myself is a mission."
Since then, Seth has volunteered regularly at The Children's Course (primarily during the summer and fall months), working both as a mentor and golf instructor, and also sharing her story as a public speaker for First Tee. She's volunteered there so long, in fact, that she also oversees a handful of former First Tee participants who themselves have now transitioned to become mentors.
She has also volunteered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association,
Special Olympics Oregon and more.
The payoff, Seth said, comes almost every day.
"Another girl — she's so sweet — said she wanted to be just like me when she grows up," Seth said. "I told her 'You can be so much more. Just believe in yourself and your dreams.'"