One In A Million: The Zoila Herrera Story

Caring. Charismatic. Confident. Passionate. Personable. Poised.

These are just a few of the many traits that describe Zoila Herrera, but for the Miami native and LPGA*USGA Girls Golf alumna, perseverant is most fitting.

That’s because no matter what life has thrown at Herrera, she endures and overcomes – often with a smile that lights up a room. For example, when the outgoing only child was bullied for being herself, she didn’t fight back. Herrera instead took it as an opportunity to respond with kindness, trying to find something in common with those who mistreated her.

When Herrera broke her leg jumping on a trampoline on her 10th birthday, instead of getting upset over the activities she could no longer take part in, she used the subsequent five-month recovery to seek out other hobbies.

This eventually led Herrera to golf, which became her saving grace during a heartbreaking period that started at age 14. First, Herrera’s mom suffered a stroke, which left her in the hospital for a month and disabled since, unable to use the left side of her body.

Shortly after that, Herrera underwent corrective surgery on her femur because the one she broke previously was now shorter than the other. As if these events weren’t life-changing enough, Herrera’s parents got divorced when she was 15, which meant she was now responsible for being her mother’s primary caretaker.

Despite having her life turned upside down, Herrera persevered, finding the strength to care for her mother day in and day out. As time went on, however, the weight of her responsibility became too much to bear. Insert LPGA*USGA Girls Golf Miami, which provided a safe haven for Herrera to escape the adversity – even for just a few hours at a time – and pursue her passion, spending time with fellow girl golfers.

If there’s one thing to be gleaned from this story, it’s that Herrera is not alone. She is both one in a million and one of a million girls who have found a personal sanctuary in Girls Golf since the program was created in 1989.

“Girls Golf gave me a place where I could go and work on myself, not just with golf, but academically and personally,” Herrera said. “It was my oasis because it was so close to home, and it gave me an environment where I could think of myself before everyone else around me.”
Zoila Herrera and Stephanie Peareth

First introduced to golf at the age of 10 through a clinic at her school, Herrera immediately fell in love with the game. She then spent four years with the First Tee before meeting Stephanie Peareth, who was in the process of launching a Girls Golf chapter in Miami. As it turned out, the two bonded over more than just golf.

While recovering from the surgery on her femur, Herrera leaned on Peareth, who also faced her own health issues in the form of an incurable brain condition that required three brain surgeries and a brain stint.

“We bonded over our ‘bionic abilities’ as we called it, because we both have machines in our body,” Herrera explained with a smile. “It was really nice to connect with someone like that in such an unexpected way.”

This connection and the others that Herrera made through Girls Golf Miami proved vital as she began caring for her mother following the divorce.

“My life was turned upside down,” Herrera shared. “Looking back, I’m not sure how I handled it, to be honest with you, but the Girls Golf support system definitely helped. The way you look at things is a big part of it, too. Looking at the cup as half full versus half empty meant a lot to me.”

This mentality is shared by Peareth, who was once told that she would never walk again following brain surgery. Instead, with help from her dad, Peareth not only got out of her wheelchair, but she has since returned to the golf course and a full-time career. An inspiration in her own right, Peareth could not be prouder of Herrera and the woman she has become.

“She is the biggest personality, and you can’t help but smile around her,” Peareth said of her friend. “Despite everything Zoila has been through, she never shows anything but a fun positivity, and it’s infectious to everyone around her. She’s truly an inspiration.”

Given that praise, it should come as no surprise that Herrera instantly became a role model to the younger girls in the Miami chapter.

“As the first president of Girls Golf Miami, I really set the tone and took pride in being a leader,” Herrera said. “The program provided some of my first leadership roles, and I truly loved the opportunity to help the girls improve in all areas of their life.”

Thanks to the support of Peareth, Herrera also benefited from the many experiences and opportunities offered by Girls Golf. This included going to LPGA Leadership Academies, tournaments and even company headquarters. Because of the financial limitations Herrera and her family experienced growing up, none of this would have been possible without Girls Golf.

These experiences were also the impetus for Herrera to look for schools out of state. She wanted to find an environment where she could blossom, and she found just that – and a golf scholarship – at Wheeling University in West Virginia. Having the opportunity to take life into her own hands was exactly what Herrera wanted. What she didn’t expect, however, was just how much she would stand out as a Latina on campus.

“I struggled a lot through my start of college,” she explained. “A lot of the Hispanics at school were internationally based, so I was too white for them and then too Hispanic for the white kids. I tried adjusting my persona before realizing that I am who I am.”

These challenges even extended to her sacred place: the golf course. “First off, to be a Latina in golf is special,” Herrera said. “At home in Miami, it wasn’t uncommon, but after leaving Miami, it became clear I was a minority for the first time in my life. I was confused why there weren’t more girls who looked like me, sounded like me, or acted like me. Even at tournaments, I was the only Hispanic girl in the field, so when I did run into another Latina golfer, I was ecstatic. We always bond over that.”

Not only did Herrera face the challenges of fitting in on campus, but her freshman year was thrown off course by the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon returning to school, however, Herrera quickly settled in, finding success on and off the golf course. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in business marketing and management in 2023, Herrera chose to pursue her master’s in organizational leadership with a concentration in athletic administration

Given everything that Girls Golf did for Herrera, it was only fitting that she came full circle by taking an internship with the LPGA as a Leadership Academy Coordinator. In this role, she got to attend several academies where she helped the full-time team set up and execute the two-day events where dozens of high school-aged girls learn leadership skills.

“Coming full circle as an intern helped me understand both sides,” she explained. “When I attended the academy in 2017, I think it came into my life at the perfect time because of the struggles I had going on at home. Then coming back as a role model who has made it through probably one of the biggest struggles I’ll have in my life, I was able to see how the girls use these tools we teach them to excel and get through rough times, which is beyond rewarding.”

This opportunity certainly fits in with Herrera’s career goal of working with kids through sports. “Sports has given so much to me,” Herrera shared. “So, just to change one kid’s life would mean the world to me.”

While Herrera is certainly ready for whatever comes next, she can’t help but stop to appreciate everything that has led to where she is today.

“To be able to say my mother lived for me was a big thing. To say I made it to college was a big thing. To say that I made it out of that time alive was a big thing because I did struggle mentally,” Herrera shared. “But I went and did something for myself by getting a degree, and I’m really proud of that and how I’ve grown as a person.

“I always say to be proud of things I have as opposed to what I’m lacking, and I hope that’s something other girls can take away from my story.”