How To Help

To contribute to the Ranken Jordan junior golf program or to ask any questions please e-mail me at kcornpga@gmail.com. This blog is not affiliated with Ranken Jordan. The views expressed on this blog are those of the author and not those of Ranken Jordan. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Kids and Their Golf Course

What a summer we have had at Ranken Jordan!  The other day I was sitting down to lunch in our Clubhouse at Innsbrook when some golfers saw the Ranken Jordan logo on my shirt and asked about my affiliation with them.  As always, I was only too happy to tell them about the junior golf program and all the great things that happen on a daily basis at that incredible facility.  While we were talking I mentioned this blog and then thought, "I haven't written a post in quite some time."  It was a very busy summer of golf, but the one thing in particular I want to share with you is the brand new outdoor field that was officially opened on August 23, 2018!

It's open!!

Over the past couple of years, any time someone walked into Ranken Jordan they saw (and will still see) a banner hanging above them proclaiming "More Healing and More Hope to More Children and More Families."  This phrase was the central point of the 78,000 square foot expansion that opened in February 2018 and allowed them to grow from a 34 bed facility to 60 inpatient beds.  When you walk through the expansion you'll see a rock climbing wall, a teen lounge, a therapy gym that I'd like to workout in, and so much more.  You will also be able to walk out onto an observation deck overlooking what I like to refer to as "Ranken Jordan National Golf Links."

Zion grooving her putting stroke

Going back to the summer of 2016, I remember the first time I saw the architect's renderings for the Ranken Jordan expansion.  To say I was blown away would be a drastic understatement.  Everywhere you looked was something cooler than what you saw a few seconds earlier!  Then, I was shown the outdoor field . . . and not one, but two, putting greens!  As amazed as I always am every time I walk into Ranken Jordan, I could not help but thinking, "wait a second, as cool as this place already is, now they are going to have a rock climbing wall, gym, baseball field, AND two putting greens?!?!"  Watching the progress every week was something that led to tremendous anticipation for what would happen in August of this year.

Almost done!

The day the field officially opened was beyond description.  We had two ceremonial first pitches and then it was time for Ayden to officially open Ranken Jordan National Golf Links!  Leading up to the grand opening, Ayden had been a regular junior golfer and looked forward to Golfday every week.  He hit golf balls, worked on his putting, and he healed.  We watched not only his golf game improve, but more importantly, his health improved.  When I walked him out to the "First Tee," he took his stance and ripped a drive straight toward the putting greens!  He then took his putter, stepped onto the green, and made his putt (Ok, so he hit two putts and the video linked HERE didn't show the one he made)!   Ayden then turned and waved to the crowd just as he would after making a birdie putt on the PGA Tour!  While watching him, I knew immediately why I refused each invitation to try out the putting greens before they were officially open for the kids.

Ayden's first tee shot (and first golf shot ever struck on RJNGL)

Almost 8 years ago I walked into Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital for the first time.  During that time span, with very few exceptions, I am there at least one day every week.  I can honestly say that I am as amazed and impressed with every aspect of the facility as I was that very first day.  However the opening of the outdoor field and all that it allows the children to do has me in awe.  How many other pediatric facilities can you go to and see a child who, due to a horribly tragic accident is now a quadriplegic, and part of his therapy includes him playing golf outside while he's in the hospital?  My favorite part of helping him was the first time I saw the big smile on his face and the promise he made that he would give me a putting lesson!  For any of you who are in or near St. Louis, or if those of you from out of town would ever be in St. Louis, I encourage and invite you to visit Ranken Jordan see the miracles that happen there every day.  I can promise you this, your life will be better after any amount of time you spend at 11365 Dorsett Road.
Landon is a putting machine!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Hospital Bed, A Golf Club, and A Lot of Smiles

A few weeks ago a new inpatient at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital came to our weekly junior golf clinic and the following conversation took place:

Me:  Hi, I'm Kevin.  Are you ready to play golf?

Junior Golfer:  I'm in my hospital bed, I can't play golf.

Me:  If you want to play, I'll show you how you can hit the golf ball.

Junior Golfer:  Really?  Even though I'm in my bed and have to lay on my stomach I can still play?

Me:  Of course you can!

Junior Golfer:  Ok, if you think I can hit the ball from here I'll give it a try.



Over the years of writing this blog I have shared several conversations that I have had with patients which are much like the one above.  For many of the children, getting to Ranken Jordan is the first time they have been told that they can do something like play golf.  I always enjoy these conversations because they serve as a starting point of showing the children what is possible for them.  Who would have thought that a child laying on their stomach in their hospital bed could hit golf balls?  To take it a step further, who would have thought that same child would also learn how to tee up their own golf balls while laying face down in their hospital bed?


After having that initial conversation with our new junior golfer and starting to hit golf balls, things were going so well that I decided to teach them something else.  At Ranken Jordan we use the Almost Golf Balls because they do not break glass or skin and are very limited flight.  They are also much lighter than regular golf balls.  Because of that, the golf balls can be rolled up the rubber driving range tee using a golf club so that nobody has to bend over to tee it up (however we do make many of the kids bend over to tee up the golf balls for the therapeutic effect).  Following several very good golf shots, I showed our new junior golfer how to do just this.  It did not take much practice before teeing up golf balls from the hospital bed was no big deal!  The smiles, laughter, and fun did not stop for well over an hour!


Imagine if you will walking into a pediatric hospital as a visitor.  As you walk past the reception desk, you see an indoor playground with children hitting golf balls off the windows on the other side of the playground.  You look further and see that one of the children is flat on their stomach in a hospital bed, has scooted up to the edge, and with arms hanging off the end of the bed is hitting golf balls.  You stand and watch for a few minutes and that child is also teeing up their golf balls before hitting them.  Seems perfectly normal, correct?  At Ranken Jordan things like this are perfectly normal.  I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to spend some time with the kids every week and always leave knowing they did far more for me than I could ever do for them.  However the best is yet to come -- I cannot wait until Ranken Jordan National Golf Links is open for the kids to enjoy!


Thursday, May 10, 2018

7 Years of Smiles

Junior Golfer:  "Is it OK if I watch golf today?"

Me:  "Of course it is, but we can get you set up to play if you'd prefer to do that."

Junior Golfer:  "No, that's OK, I'll just watch because I've never played."

Me:  "Everybody who plays has been in that same situation before.  If you want to play you let us know and we'll get you started."

Junior Golfer:  "Do you really think I can do it?"

Me:  "I know you can.  Let me grab a golf club and we'll get you going."

Junior Golfer:  "OK, I'll hit 3 golf balls and give it a try."


Fast forward through those initial three swings to get to this --

Junior Golfer:  "Can I hit one more golf ball?"

Me:  "You can hit as many as you want."

Junior Golfer:  "Maybe I'll hit two or three, this is fun!"



The conversation above has been shortened a bit to keep it brief but still get the point across.  This is how we started our junior golf clinic at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital yesterday afternoon.  I can think of no more perfect way to start the junior golf clinic on the day before the 7th anniversary of our very first junior golf clinic.  Yes, today, May 10, 2018, is the 7th anniversary of the initial golf clinic at Ranken Jordan.  To have a brand new junior golfer come to our clinic, be hesitant, pick up a golf club, have fun, and want to keep playing, is the perfect illustration of what golf has done for the kids at Ranken Jordan over the past 7 years.


While our new junior golfer was hitting golf balls today, the smiles and laughter never stopped.  When fatigue set in, we were left with a final big smile and a promise to be back next week for more golf.  Why, you might be thinking, was there fatigue after only six swings?  Well, those six swings turned into about 40 as there was also a request for "one more shot!"  This is one of the things that continues to amaze me each and every week.  Children like this who do not think they can play golf or have been told that they can't, are shown that they can.  Through Ranken Jordan's revolutionizing "Care Beyond the Bedside" healthcare model, kids are given the opportunity to get out of bed, out of their hospital rooms, and back to being kids.


There are not enough adjectives to properly or adequately describe the impact the past seven years of junior golf at Ranken Jordan have had on me.  It is also impossible to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of our junior golf program in one way or another -- our junior golfers, their families, therapists, nurses, doctors, friends and family, colleagues, donors -- the list has no end.  For that I am truly grateful.  Seven years of weekly golf clinics, rain or shine, has been simply amazing.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who has been so important in improving the lives of so many children one swing at a time.  And Janine, thank you for letting me continue to sneak past security every week!  Here's to the next 7 years of more healing and more hope for more children and more families!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Yes He Can!

"He doesn't like to make eye contact."

"Also, he isn't comfortable having anything in his hands."

Imagine starting off a junior golf clinic and hearing this about one of the participants who will be trying golf for the first time.  This is what happened about 18 months ago as Ranken Jordan was preparing for their annual Inspiration Gallery fundraiser.  Every November, as part of their art therapy program, the kids create artwork that is displayed and sold to friends and supporters of Ranken Jordan.  For the first time, our junior golfers created multiple pieces by hitting golf balls at blank pieces of canvas.  Some of you may remember a blog post from that timeframe talking about how much fun the kids (and me, too) had painting with golf balls!

Jaxen's first day of golf
If you recall that blog post you likely remember the pictures of one of the junior golfers who was part of it, a young red-headed boy named Jaxen.  When the therapists at Ranken Jordan bring a new golfer they always let me know of any physical restrictions or challenges that may affect how we teach the children.  That is what led to me hearing the two statements that started this blog post.  Not making eye contact with anyone is not a big deal when it comes to playing golf.  However not being comfortable with having anything in your hands makes it quite difficult to grip a golf club!  But as everyone knows, we refuse to let something like that stop the kids from playing golf!  Initially we started Jaxen with hand-over-hand swings.  We would hold his hand on the club and help him hit the golf balls.  After 3 swings he was looking up at me and reaching for the golf club!  The smile he had on his face that day was priceless!


During the next 18 months, Jaxen was always one of the first to arrive at our driving range in Warner's Corner on Golfday (Wednesday to most people).  At the same time his health was improving, so, too, was his golf game.  Jaxen would hit a golf ball, smile, laugh, and dance while he waited for me to tee up another one; I could not tee up the golf balls fast enough for him!  Jaxen was reaching for the club after each shot and wanted to keep hitting golf balls.  Watching his priceless reactions after each shot is something none of us will ever forget.  There were many times that Jaxen would grab my hand, place it on the grip, and help me practice.  I was amazed how straight I could hit the golf ball with Jaxen's help!  Golf became such a source of enjoyment for Jaxen that a variety of therapists would join us for golf.  As an example, who would have ever thought that speech therapy could be done using golf as an intermediary?  Recently Jaxen was able to go home with his family.  When he left Ranken Jordan he did so with his own brand new set of U.S. Kids Golf clubs and lessons set up with his local PGA Professional.

Almost 7 years after starting the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan I am still in awe and inspired when I see children like Jaxen making so much incredible progress and improvement.  Friends of mine hear me frequently say that the children do far more for me than I will ever do for them -- and that is 100% truth.  The work being done at Ranken Jordan on a daily basis is nothing short of miraculous.  It is amazing what can happen when kids are allowed to be kids.  Now that the Berges Family Foundation Adolescent Center expansion is finished, more kids and more families will have more hope and more healing.  The next step is for Mother Nature to get out of her bad mood so the kids can get outside to take advantage of the putting greens that are part of the expansion!


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fuuuuunn!

Junior golfer:  "I'm having fuuuuunnn!"

Me:  "Is this your first time playing golf?"

Junior golfer:  "Yes, and I love it!"

Me:  "I'm very happy to hear that and see that huge smile on your face."

Junior golfer:  "Can we do this again tomorrow?"

Me:  "Golfday is every Wednesday at 2:00, but I bet we can work something out for you."


Junior golfer:  "How can I play more golf?"

Me:  "I'll make a deal with you.  If you do good in your therapy and do everything your nurses and therapists tell you to do, I'll make sure you can play every afternoon if you want to."

Junior golfer:  "Really?!?!  That would be awesome!!"



After almost seven years of weekly golf clinics at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, conversations like this one are happening more and more frequently.  As I am sure you can imagine, in every similar conversation our junior golfers have ear-to-ear smiles on their faces.  Each time I have this conversation the wave of feelings are as powerful as the first time it occurred.  Many people think the reason for this is because these weekly golf clinics are growing the game of golf.  For those who think that they could not be any more incorrect.


The junior golf clinics at Ranken Jordan are far more than just golf clinics.  In this setting, golf is used as a healing tool in a variety of ways.  As illustrated in the conversation at the opening of this blog post, at times golf is used as a reward for working hard in therapy sessions.  Other times golf is used as direct therapy for a myriad of reasons.  Think about the physical benefits of swinging a golf club -- balance, core strengthening, flexibility, and the list can go on.  For the kids at Ranken Jordan that list also includes improved grip strength, arm strength, posture improvements (both seated and standing), leg strength, physical stamina, just to name a few.  Golf is also used as a social, emotional, and mental healing tool.  The average length of stay at Ranken Jordan is approximately 42 days, and many children are there far longer.  If nothing else, golf is a great diversion to allow them the opportunity to simply be kids.  Teaching the kids how to play golf also shows them a leisure activity that they can do when they go home -- an activity that they likely never thought they would be able to do.


One of my favorite ways golf is used as a healing tool is when it involves the entire family.  Countless conversations have been had with parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc., about where they can go to learn the game so that they can play golf together.  Often times their instruction will also begin in the hospital so that every one gets to begin to experience golf together.  So many times this is the first opportunity that they have had to play a sport together (in most cases I have been able to make it to my car before my "allergies" get really bad).  When the kids are able to go home, one thing that always brings a huge smile to my face is when I get a text message or e-mail from a parent or the child with an update.  These are some of the times when I realize the important role this game that drives many of us insane can have in improving lives.


In addition to the updates that I receive via text, e-mail, or phone call, there are times when the messages from the parents and kids will be to say "thank you" for introducing golf into the lives of the children at Ranken Jordan.  Those are some of the messages that I have the most difficult time formulating a response to.  The way I see it, I should not be the one receiving the messages of appreciation that they send -- it should be the other way around.  I am the one who is eternally grateful for the opportunity to put a golf club in the hands of each one of the children at Ranken Jordan who has been a part (and will be a part) of our golf program.  There will never be the words for me to adequately describe how much it means to me to spend time with the kids and their families.  And knowing that every Golfday (Wednesday to everybody else) my Mom is smiling down with pride at her little boy is pretty awesome, too.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Toughness Defined

Tough and toughness are two words that can mean many different things to people.  When some people hear that word they will think back to July 15, 1967, when Roberto Clemente ripped a line drive off Bob Gibson's leg, breaking the leg, and Gibby stayed in to face three more batters.  Younger people may think of an upcoming test or report that is due for a school project.  On January 13, 2018, Ranken Jordan's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Nick Holekamp, explained his version of what tough and toughness means to him to a jam packed ballroom at the Ritz Carlton in Clayton, MO, for Ranken Jordan's annual Gala.

LJ draining some putts!
The Gala is my favorite night of the year and one of the many reasons for it is having the opportunity to listen to Dr. Holekamp, Ranken Jordan President & CEO Lauri Tanner, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny speak.  Each of them always provides powerful, moving speeches that leave attendees thinking for days or longer.  As part of Dr. Holekamp's speech each year, he always personalizes it with stories about specific stories.  This year was no different as the stories he told put a smile on my face and brought tears to my eyes.  As Dr. Holekamp spoke of what true toughness is, he spoke of Camden, a 7 year old boy who a year ago lost both of his parents in an automobile accident and spent time at Ranken Jordan recovering from his own injuries (watch Camden's video HERE).  Then he told Brad's story of having a severe spinal cord injury and how 99% of patients would not recover in the way Brad has (watch Brad's video HERE).  Following that he shared young LJ's story of having burns over 70% of his body and how hard he works every day to get better.  While he was talking you could have heard a pin drop in that ballroom with several hundred people in attendance.

Camden taking his first golf swings
As people were hanging on his every word, I was sitting at my table in the back of the ballroom thinking of fun times teaching each of these inspirational and amazing young men how to play golf while I smiled and wiped away tears.  Every child at Ranken Jordan has their own unique story as to why they are there.  And almost every child who is there has been constantly told that they can't play golf (or many other sports for that matter).  However while the kids are at Ranken Jordan, and Cam, Brad, and LJ are no different, we show them that they can play golf regardless of the complex medical condition they are facing.  Seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter echo through Warner's Corner are all anyone needs to understand how much fun the kids have playing golf.  The strength, determination, and resiliency shown by the kids is nothing short of incredible.

LJ watching Brad rip some drivers
I vividly remember the first day Camden, Brad, and LJ joined us for golf and seeing their faces light up with a smile when they hit their first solid golf shot.  To think that this crazy game could bring a bit of joy to their lives with the complex medial issues they are facing is an incredible feeling.  There is absolutely nothing in the game of golf that gives me greater joy than seeing the kids at Ranken Jordan smile and enjoy the game.  When you spend some time there, you quickly learn that the kids are the true definition of toughness.  Watching their enthusiasm and seeing their resiliency as they face battles I cannot comprehend solidifies the definition of toughness in my mind.  Someday when (if) I grow up I hope to be as tough as them.
Brad loves hitting the driver!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Santa's Nice List

Amir: SANTA! SANTA! Did you get my letter?

Santa: I did, and I read it twice.

Amir: You did? Am I on the nice list this year?

Santa: You most certainly are!

Amir: Alright! So I might get the things I put in my letter to you?

Santa: Mrs. Claus, what do you think?

Mrs. Claus: I think Amir is going to be very happy when it is his turn!



I had the great fortune to hear this conversation recently as Santa Claus visited Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital and passed out gifts to all of the patients.  A group of patients, staff, and volunteers were standing outside in front of the main entrance excitedly waiting for Santa and Mrs. Claus to arrive.  When they did, young Amir was right there to greet and welcome them back to Ranken Jordan.  Every year the Maryland Heights Police and Fire Departments bring Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their elves to visit the kids.  This year was no different than any other as it was simply an amazing day.


Thanks to the compassion and generosity of the great men and women of those two departments, Christmas is a very special time for the kids at Ranken Jordan.  The looks and sounds associated with the pure joy and excitement they have are indescribable (you can see dozens of great photographs from this day on the Maryland Heights Police Department's Facebook page).  There is nothing like putting a smile on the face of a child and the police officers and firefighters make certain all the children (as well as families, staff, and volunteers) have huge smiles on their faces.  Each year I am grateful that I am allowed to be there for this day and see how much fun the kids have as every child gets time to sit on Santa's lap and get their gifts.


One thing the kids may not yet realize is that for some of us, just being there for that day is as great of a gift for us as the presents are to them.  And you know, the great thing is, the gift that I am talking about (from my own personal perspective) also occurs every Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.  Their smiles and laughter are some of the most special gifts the kids give us every week on Golfday.  As soon as I walk out of the front doors at 11365 Dorsett Road, I am already counting down the hours until the following week's Golfday.  I also walk out hoping once again that I did half as much for the kids as they did for me.