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To contribute to the Ranken Jordan junior golf program or to ask any questions please e-mail me at 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!

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.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

CEO of Patients

"Ability is what you're capable of doing.

Motivation determines what you do.

Attitude determines how well you do it."

--Lou Holtz

Walk through the doors of Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital and you will see world-class ability, unbelievable motivation, and never quit attitudes.  After you make those observations of the staff, you will see the kids take all those things to an entirely new level!  Not a week goes by that I am not in awe of the ability, motivation, and attitude of the kids (and staff) at Ranken Jordan.  Each of the above mentioned traits is readily visible during our weekly golf clinics.

One of our regular junior golfers perfectly illustrates the quote which begins this blog post.  CC (aka the "CEO of Patients") has far greater ability than what she believed a year ago.  At times she is a typical teenager and does not like to show just how motivated she is to exceed everybody's expectations for her.  CC's outgoing, effervescent personality and attitude quickly spread among everybody and shortly after her arrival each week everyone was laughing and smiling!  Just over a year ago CC's life would forever change as a tragic accident left her with a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis.  Prior to arriving at Ranken Jordan, CC had never before picked up a golf club as she always thought "golf is boring."  That quickly changed!

From her first time swinging a golf club, CC had a very natural, smooth swing.  She immediately set a goal to do what perplexes so many golfers -- get the golf ball in the hole (target) in as few strokes as possible.  She will tell you that it did not take her long to accomplish that goal and moved on to figuring out how to hit the ball as far as possible while still getting consistent contact.  CC and I got to work on refining her swing to the point where it was consistent and repeatable while providing maximum power.  Approximately once a month we try and take the kids to the driving range at the Quarry at Crystal Springs Golf Course.  Her hard work at Ranken Jordan and also at the driving range was on display as CC hit one of the ceremonial tee shots to start the 2017 golf tournament.  Did I mention she ripped it about 110 yards right down the middle of the fairway?!?!

Spending time with the kids at Ranken Jordan is rewarding for a number of reasons.  The foremost of those reasons is watching their health improve through their hard work with their care team.  However seeing a child's face light up after they hit that first solid shot, as we saw with CC, leads to many special, memorable moments.  There are physical, social, and emotional benefits the kids receive through playing golf (and sports in general).  They also learn to set goals, create a plan to work towards achieving those goals, and then putting that plan into action.  Their attitudes and motivation prove to everyone that they have different abilities that allow them to accomplish whatever dream their mind can conceive.  As Clemson University football team's equipment manager David Saville said in a recent story on ESPN, "the only disability is a bad attitude."

Monday, October 16, 2017

I Don't Believe What I Just Saw

When reading the title of this post, many sports fan will immediately flash back to October 15, 1988, and Game 1 of the World Series between the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Dodgers.  They will recall the late, great Jack Buck's famous call as Kirk Gibson was limping around the bases after hitting a backdoor slider from Dennis Eckersley out of Dodger Stadium for a game winning home run.  However even though I grew up near St. Louis listening to Jack Buck on KMOX 1120 radio, I now tend to think of things other than Gibson's home run when I see, hear, or say those words.  Over the past 6 1/2 years I've heard and said those words more than a few times.

Brad loves hitting driver!

While helping one of our regular junior golfers during a recent junior golf clinic, we were joined by a therapist who wanted to mix therapy and golf.  This is certainly nothing new as golf has been incorporated into therapy plans since we began the golf program on May 10, 2011.  About halfway through our session, I heard the therapist say, "I don't believe it. I've never seen that before." What happened that prompted that reply?  Our junior golfer made eye contact with me and signed "play more."  I don't know sign language, but have learned enough to know exactly what was said to me so we did just what was requested -- teed up another golf ball and kept playing!

Abbey loved "Golfday" during her time at Ranken Jordan!

Throughout our 325+ (and still counting) golf clinics there have been many instances where any number of people said something similar to "I don't believe what I just saw."  Several of those stories I have written about in detail in other blog posts.  There was the time I looked at Janine Roe, Community Program Director at Ranken Jordan, and said "did you see that?" as one of our most dedicated junior golfers reached over from her wheelchair and raked the next golf ball onto her mat to hit.  Or how about the time Dakota told us golf was "stupid and boring" prior to finally picking up a putter and making 20 consecutive 5 foot putts?  Maybe watching Cooper progress from hitting golf balls out of his hospital bed, then from his wheelchair, on to his walker and then with no aid.  Of course who could forget watching junior golfers like AJ, Drew, May, CC, and Brad stand for the first time to hit golf balls!  That certainly elicited the aforementioned response!

Not sure who is getting the putting lesson!
When you spend any amount of time in an incredible facility like Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, you will always see things that leave you amazed and believing in miracles (yes, there's another sports quote reference for you).  It would not be a stretch at all for me to say that each and every week I see something that makes me feel that way.  The examples I have mentioned in this post are only a few of the hundreds of stories that could be told.  I cherish every second I am fortunate enough to spend with the kids helping put smiles on their faces through the game of golf.  Mrs. Jordan was 100% correct when she said that we all should "consider the children first in all you do."

CC showing off her new glove

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Legends of Golf

Have you ever been part of an event that had so much meaning to you, was so powerful, that you just could not put your feelings into words?  That is how I have felt since Ranken Jordan's annual golf tournament which was played almost a month ago at Norwood Hills Country Club.  Every week at Ranken Jordan something happens that leaves me speechless.  The kids and staff there do such amazing things that I am constantly seeing something that has me in awe.  However at this year's event, the largest ever with 288 players and 327 for dinner, I knew it was going to be a very special day from the second I pulled into the parking lot.

Cooper, CC, and Sam with Lauri Tanner
As has become a tradition like one other, the golf tournament started with Ranken Jordan's Legends of Golf hitting ceremonial tee shots to officially start the event.  This was the third year of the tradition and it grows more impressive each year.  Sam Ward, CC White, and Cooper Burks stepped up in front of over 200 golfers and ripped tee shots right down the middle of the fairway to perfectly illustrate how successful Ranken Jordan's "care beyond the bedside" model is.  Rather than me inadequately describe how powerful these few minutes were, please click HERE to watch the video of the tee shots.

Cooper celebrating after his tee shot
Following the tee shots I had the privilege and honor to be part of a round of golf that I will never forget.  Many of you who read this blog regularly will remember Cooper Burks and how much he has enjoyed learning to play golf.  At 13 years old, Cooper, who is a sports nut, has had 26 hip surgeries and been very limited on what sports he could participate in.  With golf, those limitations are left in the clubhouse!  During this year's Ranken Jordan golf tournament, Cooper played his very first round of golf and I had a front row seat for it as he was sharing a golf car with me.  Suffice it to say, watching Cooper play his first round of golf is the most impressive thing I have ever seen on a golf course!  Almost a month later I still have no idea how I made it through that round without shedding any tears.

Cooper's first tee shot in his first round of golf!
The speeches, stories, and videos that are told and shown during dinner are always one of my favorite parts of tournament day.  This year's video featured some of the teenagers who have been "regulars" during Golfday at Ranken Jordan.  You can watch the video HERE (this video is when I started having "allergy" issues).  Lauri Tanner, President and CEO of Ranken Jordan, and Jennifer Mull, daughter of Phil Mull (aka "the Mullster"), shared moving stories of why this tournament is so critically important to so many children and families.  However just as the round of golf did, the night belonged to Cooper Burks.  You see, at 13 years old, Cooper got up in front of a packed ballroom and delivered a speech that had everyone so captivated you could hear a pin drop.  He spoke of why Ranken Jordan was important to him, the positive impact it has made on his life and his family, and how important golf has been to him.  At this point my tears were flowing like someone turned on a faucet.  His mother took a video of his speech and I have yet to be able to watch it from beginning to end without those tears reappearing.  Should you need to know the definition of strength, perseverance, and inspiration, you do not have to look any farther than Cooper.

Every year the Ranken Jordan golf tournament is the one event I most look forward to.  It is truly an honor to be a small part of this important event.  Thank you to the entire golf committee for the year-round hard work they put in to make this tournament such a success.  Thank you to Lauri Tanner for being such an incredible friend and allowing me to spend so much time with the children.  And thank you to Cooper Burks for the honor of calling you a friend.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Wheelchair? No problem!

Therapist: Does she want to play golf today?

Father: My daughter is in her wheelchair and can't stand up well enough to play golf.

Me: That's not an issue at all. She can play right from her wheelchair.

Therapist: Yes, we'll go hand-over-hand with her if that makes it easier, but she can definitely play.

Father: Really? She can do that?  I don't see how she can play golf from her wheelchair.

Me: Absolutely! We've had kids play from their hospital bed. If she wants to play, we'll make sure she has fun.

Father: She's smiling so that means she wants to play. Let's get her started!

This conversation occurred about a month ago prior to our weekly junior golf clinic at Ranken Jordan.  Similar discussions tend to happen on a fairly regular basis.  Sometimes it it with a parent or family member, like in this case.  Other times it is with a friend, volunteer, or just someone who comes in the golf shop and asks questions about the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  I always enjoy talking with and educating people about how golf truly is a sport for everyone.  It adds icing on the cake when those same people get to see first-hand just how well the kids play golf from their wheelchairs, hospital beds, walkers, or with other medical equipment.

As has been covered multiple times on this blog, many of the children at Ranken Jordan have always been told they cannot do something because of their complex medical condition.  When I make presentations about the junior golf program or talk to others around the country about it, they share many of the same type of stories.  People of all ages who have different abilities are, unfortunately, routinely told that they cannot participate in a sport as a result.  My response to the people who incorrectly tell someone they cannot participate is typically, "oh yeah, watch this!"

There are two expressions that I will never tire of seeing as long as I am fortunate enough to work with the amazing kids at Ranken Jordan.  Both of those expressions were on display just a few swings after the conversation this blog post began with.  The first expression, and my favorite, is the big smile and look of pure joy on the face of the child.  They are having fun being a kid, playing, and doing exactly what any other child would be doing.  There is no greater feeling than putting a smile on the face of a child.  The second expression is the look of sheer awe on the face of the person who did not necessarily believe that a child could play golf from their hospital bed, wheelchair, walker, etc.  You can always tell when the light goes off in their mind and they become true believers that the kids can play golf and be included.

The ability of the kids will be on full display this coming Monday, July 24, at the annual Ranken Jordan golf tournament held at Norwood Hills Country Club.  Prior to the event, our Legends of Golf will hit ceremonial tee shots to officially start the tournament.  After hitting those inspirational tee shots, three of the kids will then play in the golf tournament.  There will be plenty of big smiles on the faces of those children just as there will be plenty of looks of awe on the faces of the 288 golfers in attendance.  I look forward to both!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Is Normal?

A few days ago I had some players come in the golf shop who had seen some of the videos and news stories about the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  At that time we were not overly busy and they started asking questions about it.  These were people I had never met, but I am always happy to talk about Ranken Jordan and the kids there!  As can be expected, the more we talked the more stories I told about the kids, their successes, and the infinite number of smiles.  One of the stories went back to our very first summer.  I can not recall if I have shared the following story on this blog.  If I have, please forgive me, but I think you will enjoy reading it again.  I know I always enjoy sharing it.

Those of you who regularly read this blog may recall that our first junior golf clinic at Ranken Jordan was on May 10, 2011.  I readily admit that when we started the junior golf program there I did not know what to expect.  The only thing I wanted to do was help the kids and put smiles on their faces.  Fortunately the kids, their families, and the Ranken Jordan staff were patient with me as we all learned together.  There were plenty of laughs, smiles, made putts, and long drives.  One thing that did surprise me, though, was the level of interest in the program from the parents and siblings of the patients.  It was during a conversation with the mother of one of the patients that I got my first of many lessons from the kids and their families.

While standing and watching one of our junior golfers hit great shot after great shot from his wheelchair, I was talking to his mother about her son.  During that conversation she mentioned how much fun he was having and asked me where she could buy clubs like her son was using.  There are times when I can be a bit slow in understanding things -- and this was one of those times.  I told her she could get the clubs at any golf shop or order them on the U.S. Kids Golf website.  She replied with, "no, I mean the clubs that my son is using."  Once again I gave her the same answer (told you I can be slow).  Thank goodness she was patient with me!  She politely said, "the adapted clubs he's using, where can I buy them?"  Suddenly a dim light bulb went off in my head.  I told her that the kids were all using standard U.S. Kids Golf clubs, that we did not have any adapted golf equipment.  I will never forget the look on her face or the tears in her eyes when she turned to face me and replied, "these clubs aren't adapted?  This is the first time my son has ever used something 'normal' in sports."

As I mentioned, I will never forget the look on that wonderful lady's face when she said the word "normal."  This was one of the earliest times in our program that I realized this was much more than golf.  In a wide variety of ways, the game was helping kids get better, helping families heal, and helping to bridge that transition back to home.  The game of golf was not just helping these amazing kids heal in the physical sense.  It was also helping them, and their families, heal mentally, emotionally, and socially.  I am so proud to say that 6 years later nothing has not changed.  All of us associated with the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan cherish the opportunity to introduce the kids to the game of golf and teach them how they can play regardless of their medical issues.  However what we enjoy the most, and I am certain I can speak for everyone on this, is watching the children heal and get back to living their lives to the fullest.  We do as Mrs. Jordan said, "consider the children first in all you do."