Pima Community College sports

Clara Solano’s Life Struggles, Including Being in Coma Last Summer, Have Not Stopped Her Golf Career

Pima Community College golfer Clara Solano can remember on her 19th birthday last August her father taking a picture of her with the chocolate cheesecake — her favorite — that he searched all over Tucson for to bring to her hospital room.

A sufferer of kidney stones since her sophomore year at Tucson High School in 2015, Solano was heavily sedated after undergoing an emergency surgery to remove ureteral stents that doctors believed were causing an infection. If the infection spread from her bladder to her kidneys, her body could have went into shock, they explained to her.

Her room with the flowers and decorations, and her wearing a tiara and sash that had “Princess” on it, turned into a frantically stressful scene, one in which Solano came close to her last breath.

“I have flashbacks of what happened,” Solano said. “I remember a bunch of people rushing in and then seeing my dad in the corner crying.”

Clara Solano is back on the course after a serious health scare last summer (Ray Suarez/Pima Athletics)

Solano and her family at first believed a heavy dose of antibiotics prevented the infection from spreading. But that was not the case. The infection traveled to her lungs causing pneumonia. Fluid filled her lungs and she gasped for air while her body went into convulsions.

“The reason why the people (nurses and doctors) ran in there is because my dad took that picture and I started looking at him and I was like, ‘Dad, I can’t breath,'” Solano said. “It started getting like …”

Solano then paused to gather herself, her voice quivering and tears falling down on her cheeks.

“It started getting more crazy and that’s why I can’t remember anybody. I just remember my dad crying. My cousin ran in and she said she saw my body freaking out. She dropped everything in her hands. My mom was in the hallway and she said she tried to run in and they stopped her.

“They pumped a lot of stuff in me and I fell asleep.”

She was induced into a coma.

Clara Solano was one of only two golfers from Tucson who played in the state championship when she was a senior at Tucson High (Solano family photo)

“She had a bad reaction to her medication and it happened all at once,” her father, Rene Solano, said. “I recall it was pretty horrific. Clara was excited to be out of surgery and then she went into a panic. She couldn’t breath and different doctors and nurses ran in there. It felt like the whole hospital was in there.

“It was not a pretty sight, seeing my daughter with tubes down her throat and a machine breathing for her. She looked like she was gone.”

Clara has experienced more tragedy and triumph in her 19 years than many at her age.

She had not reached 10 by when her parents divorced. About a year after that, her mom, Karen Salomon, suffered through her second bout with breast cancer.

“She’s fine but she freaks out when any of her kids get sick,” Clara said. “When all that happened to me, she blanked out on everything. My mom does not like going to hospitals or seeing doctors.”

Clara Solano (far left) with her Pima teammates (Ray Suarez/Pima Athletics)

It was difficult for Clara to be apart from her mom and dad. When she was in the eighth grade, she attended three different middle schools to remain close to each of them. She was with her dad at Sierra Middle School and then lived with her mom while attending Santa Cruz (a private school), and in her last semester, she was back with her dad at Safford Middle School.

After her freshman year at Sunnyside High School, she transferred closer to her mom and attended Tucson. Around golf all her life with Rene the course superintendent at Haven Golf Course in Green Valley, Clara’s career started to flourish with the Badgers.

Her sophomore year was affected by her first flare-up with kidney stones, which is a genetic health issue. She had stents inserted into her ureters the first time. She was treated for an infection and became healed.

As a senior at Tucson, she was selected the 2017 All Sports Tucson Girls All-Division I Golfer of the Year after being one of two golfers from Tucson who qualified for the state tournament that year. Her performance landed her a scholarship at Pima.

“It was not a pretty sight, seeing my daughter with tubes down her throat and a machine breathing for her. She looked like she was gone.”

— Rene Solano Sr.

“I’ve been working at the golf course for more than 30 years,” Rene said. “My kids grew up on a golf course. It definitely rubbed off on her.

“I don’t play golf at her level. I manage a golf course. I am growing the turf, making it so people can come play. I make the grass green. If you see my golf swing you know I’m not a great player. My daughter and my son (former Sunnyside football standout Rene Solano Jr.) are the golfers of the family.”

Last summer, in the days leading up to her sophomore season at Pima, is when Clara encountered more problems with her kidney stones. Stents were inserted in both of her ureters to help alleviate the stones from inhibiting her kidney.

She experienced more pain and the infection spread. Doctors decided to remove the stents and that’s when she was back in her hospital room looking at the delicious cheesecake and flowers her dad bought her for her birthday.

“I don’t like cake, so he got me cheesecake,” Clara said. “This is my dad … rides around all around Tucson looking for cheesecake. Like there’s not a Cheesecake Factory that has cheesecake …

Clara Solano was swinging the clubs a week after her release from the hospital last August (Ray Suarez/Pima Athletics)

“It was so funny because he was supposed to be there in the middle of the surgery because he said he wanted to be there. That’s why I was like, ‘What’s taking you so long?’ He finally shows up with the flowers and the cheesecake — it was a huge cheesecake — and he told me, ‘I spent a fortune on this.'”

Clara laughed but soon was overcome by emotion recounting the episode of her losing her breath and being induced into a coma.

“I took off and found a church in the hospital,” Rene Sr. said. “I didn’t know what to do but pray. One of Clara’s doctors recognized me and he joined me in the church. He prayed for me and for us. It’s amazing he took the time to go in there and pray for our family.”

Clara came out of her coma less than three days later, faster than what doctors expected.

“That’s how I see everything. It’s like a rollercoaster. … There’s always been tragedy. I’ve always thought it’s okay for everything to be bad right now. It’s going to get better. It’s not going to get worse.”

— Clara Solano

She was never afraid her golf career would be in jeopardy, but was at first concerned about her leg strength after she was bed-ridden for more than a week. She took shots in the stomach to give her strength to walk.

After some prodding by her parents to get up and try to walk, she finally gathered enough strength for the doctors to release her. Her doctor told her she could play golf immediately but only practicing her putts.

“It took me a week after that to be able to swing fully,” Clara said. “It was always like, ‘When can I get back out there?’ I told my doctor that I needed to get back out there.’

She did not play a full 18 holes until two months later, around November.

“I was scared to do it because what caused the problem (requiring the stents to be removed) was that I moved a certain way and it was painful,” she said.

Her kidney stones are monitored every other month. Incredibly, with what has happened recently in her life, that became the least of her worries.

She was involved in a hit-and-run in which a woman struck her car and left the scene of the accident. Shortly thereafter, her car was stolen along with many of her possessions that were in the car, including her golf clubs in her Pima College golf bag.

Miraculously, the car was found only a few blocks from where it was stolen. The golf clubs were still missing, however. Rene Sr. approached the owner of the house where the car was parked and the man insisted he did not steal the car and that somebody else left the car there and took off the tire rims to put on his car.

With help from the police, Clara’s father was able to get the man to admit he knew where her clubs were located. They bluffed the man that a tire shop across the street had surveillance cameras that would show who parked the car and took the golf clubs.

The man got Rene Sr. the clubs within an hour. The police told Clara that the man felt bad seeing her crying. The police also made the man take the rims off his car and put them back on her car.

“The thing with me is I’ve had the same clubs since I was in high school,” Clara said. “When I got my scholarship to Pima, my dad told me he would buy me new clubs, but I was like, ‘No dad, don’t touch them.’

“I insisted to my dad that it’s not material stuff, I love my clubs.”

Clara Solano will continue her golf career at the University of the Southwest at Hobbs, N.M., next season (Pima Athletics photo)

Rene Sr. put a down payment for her new car, and she must help with payments working as a bar back at a downtown establishment. Her time is divided among her job, her studies at Pima and time on the course with the Aztecs.

She again is flourishing as a golfer, helping Pima win its first regular season tournament since 2006, topping Chandler-Gilbert by six strokes at the Aztecs’ home course (The Views Golf Course in Oro Valley) on April 2.

“Clara has grown up fast,” Rene Sr. “She’s been through a whole lot. What helps her is golf because it helps her keep that focus. It keeps her mind sharp. It has helped her mature.”

Sophomore Elizabeth Satterfield (Ironwood Ridge) took fourth place in the individual standings and freshman Katelyn Hutchison (Cienega) finished in ninth place while sophomore Julienne Gonzalez (Ironwood Ridge) rounded out the top 10.

Solano, who finished 13th, balanced her life’s rough stretches with some more good news recently as she earned a scholarship to continue her golf career at the University of the Southwest, an NAIA program in Hobbs, N.M. After visiting the school with her boyfriend, Clara became hooked because of the new facilities there and the home course is across the street from campus.

“I never expected any of that to happen,” Clara said. “I never expected to get sick and almost die, get better and then right when I’m up, my car gets stolen, my clubs get stolen … and then I get back up and all of a sudden I have a scholarship.

“That’s how I see everything. It’s like a rollercoaster. … There’s always been tragedy. I’ve always thought it’s okay for everything to be bad right now. It’s going to get better. It’s not going to get worse.”

While reading from the bible starting at a young age, praying for her mom through her mom’s battle with breast cancer, Clara found the verse Romans 8:18: “Consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

“I’ve always thought that I might be sick but it’s going to get better, it’s going to be okay,” she said. “You wouldn’t know what bad is if you didn’t know the good. You wouldn’t know the good if you didn’t know the bad.

“Bad things are bound to happen if you want good things to happen. That’s how I see things. It’s all about your mentality.”


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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