Pushing Back Against Adversity: The Stefan Schauffele Story

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It isn’t always easy to view life as a linear experience.

Often, it’s a journey riddled with the punctuation of paragraphs, chapters, and singular moments – all of which change the story being told.

Take Olympic golfer Xander Schauffele’s father, Stefan Schauffele.

With a nickname like the “The Ogre”, you’d expect Stefan to be a brute of a man with no sense of humor and an impenetrable persona.

Fortunately, he’s quite the opposite.

Legendary for his playful personality, dedication to coaching, and commitment to his family, it’s no wonder Stefan – who’s also Xander’s swing coach – has earned nearly as much notoriety on the course as his son. You’ll often find him charismatically touring the green in his straw hat and rolled-up sleeves, a cigar near at hand.

Don’t be fooled, though: Stefan’s bold personality and enthusiasm for sports started long before his son’s golf career began.

In fact, Stefan Schauffele is a former decathlete who once dreamed of being a member of the coveted “Aufbaukader” of the German national decathlon team. A terrible accident, however, changed the trajectory of his athletic career and life forever.

Now, he’s channeled his zeal for the game into helping his son realize his own potential and dreams – a choice that brings Xander and Stefan to the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

We sat down with the indelible Stefan to discuss his incredible life journey so far.

Inspired by his grandfather, Richard Schauffele (a former Olympian), Stefan Schauffele began his relationship with track and field around seven or eight years old.

“Initially, it was exclusively running. Not far enough to become a top sprinter, but I did mid-distance running 3000m, 1500m, and 1000m,” Schauffele remembers.

Eventually, he developed an interest in the high jump, long jump, and javelin. By 15 years old, Stefan had joined the VFB Stuttgart track and field operation in Germany. This led to adding the discus and shot-put to his repertoire of events.

During this time, he trained extensively every day after school, developing the strength and training required to be a significant German track and field player.

Soon after, Stefan had to temporarily abandon his passion for these disciplines to complete his mandatory turn in the German military. However, he still played soccer in the Oberliga Bayern (German 3 league) for the German Air Force team out of Landsberg am Lech.

Once Stefan completed his compulsory tour with the German Air Force, he attended the European Business School near Wiesbaden. Around this time, his grandfather Richard Schauffele passed away.

“My grandfather passed away at age 80, […] one month after my 18th birthday. […] I decided to honor him by focusing on track and field once again,” Schauffele reminisces.

Not only was Richard Schauffele an impressive soccer player on the VFB Stuttgart team, but he also had a highly decorated career as a track and field athlete.

Aside from being the 1935 German track and field champion with the Stuttgarter Kickers, he received more than 40 track and field titles in shot-put, discus, javelin, and the ball throw. In 1936, he was named the head judge for all track and field throwing disciplines at the Berlin Olympic Games.

“He was an Olympian but couldn’t start due to injury. I idolized him,” Stefan recalls.

It seemed only natural for Stefan to continue in his grandfather’s footsteps after his death, so he joined the nearest well known track and field club – the USC Mainz.

In the spring of 1985, he decided to participate in a small regional track and field competition. While he was exceptional in various events, he always finished “just outside of the podium”, without any top honors.

While sitting on the sidelines of that very competition, he was approached by two gentlemen who asked him whether he’d ever considered trying a decathlon.

“It never crossed my mind,” Schauffele admits. Stefan soon discovered they were touring various competitions scouting for new athletes.

“I was completely taken by surprise. I had told them that I’m pretty good at everything I try, but really not good enough at anything. They looked at me, started smiling, and told me that there is a word for it: decathlon!”

After undergoing a series of medical tests, Stefan was invited to perform various decathlon feats for a panel of expert judges.

It was then he learned the true reason for the men’s interest in his skills: he received an invitation into the “Aufbaukader” of the German national decathlon team – an honor that’s only extended to two or three individuals each year.

“To me, this all sounded like some surreal nonsense. So they sat me down and showed me the numbers of my test results, then the numbers of my best times and distances per discipline, and how I compared to the stars in the sports. Then it started to dawn on me,” Schauffele explains.

Schauffele was told if he could master pole vaulting, a skill he’d yet to attempt, he could quite easily become one of the leading decathlon stars in the world.

As his pole vaulting training began and he prepared for his first competition with the team, it was obvious Stefan had what it took to change the face of decathlon contests.

Sadly, he never made it to that competition.

In November of 1986, a drunk driver recklessly took a blind curve and hit Stefan’s vehicle head-on while he traveled to the USC Mainz training facility.

After six eye surgeries within a two-year period, it became clear to Stefan that his dreams of becoming an Olympic decathlete were crushed.

“The last memory of my Olympic dream was all the guys from the German decathlon team coming to my hospital room. It was an emotional farewell. Everything was over! My independence, my new life, my track career, my plans, and all my dreams. I certainly had a death wish. Dark times.

There was alcoholism, lots of recreational drugs, and other excesses before I came to my senses and learned to fully accept the new reality that presented itself,” Schauffele describes.

With time, however, Stefan recalls “stepping out of the fog” he’d felt continually since the accident.

Using Chinese and German philosophies (including the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche) as his touchstones, he redirected his attention and efforts into creating a new type of existence for himself and his family.

“Once I […] was able to clearly formulate a new path, I decided to use the misfortune as inspiration for my future. I adopted an attitude that it couldn’t get any worse in life and that would mean from here on out it’s relatively speaking all good – no matter what happens,” Schauffele tells.

Instead of wallowing in a wasteland of broken dreams and letdowns, he and the rest of the Schauffele family packed up, left Germany, and started new lives in America.

As his own sons, Xander and Nicolas Schauffele, began their own athletic and professional pursuits, Stefan used his experience to help them discover their own potential.

“Although I will never know how far I actually could’ve gone in the decathlon, the promise at the time existed. As a result of being devoided of ever realizing my own potential, I became determined to ensure that my boys would find out how far they can go. In fact, I became obsessed with it,” Stefan explains.

Well, as Stefan and Xander prepare for this summer’s Olympic games, it seems safe to say that obsession and determination paid off.

In the face of adversity, it’s not always easy to find silver linings.

It would have been simple for Stefan Schauffele to lie down and accept the hardships thrown his way. Instead, he realized the positive outcomes that can be manifested by fighting back against life’s challenges.

“I will always actively question the status quo in the face of adversity. I strongly believe that progress originates from controversy and open opposition (if so justified), and am not afraid to stir the pot for that singular reason,” Schauffele concludes.

Stefan’s dedication to perseverance, faith in the opportunities presented to him, and willingness to push back against resistance are the perfect ingredients for success.

More than just Xander Schauffele’s father, Stefan is an enigma within the professional golf arena. He portrays an unmatched level of enthusiasm that sets him apart from the crowd.

Stefan may not have seen his Olympic decathlon dreams come to fruition, but he’s carved out a niche for himself as one of the greats in the world of professional sports.