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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hearts of Champions

Anyone who has spent anytime at a driving range or golf course playing golf knows the physical demands placed on your body by a golf swing.  The golf swing twists, torques, and contorts the body in such ways that a golfer will at times feel like a pretzel.  After a short practice session or quick round golfers can already feel the soreness in their shoulders, back, neck, hips, etc. (and sometimes in a wisdom tooth).  Oftentimes this pain will be enough to keep them from playing the next day or if the injury is severe enough it could put them on the disabled list for an extended period.

 Having the ability to block out the pain and play through it is something that few athletes in any sport possess.  This morning I met a brand new junior golfer who not only has the ability to play through pain, but he does it with a smile on his face.  On Tuesday this young man had surgery on not one but both of his legs.  Following his surgery both legs were placed in casts going from mid-thigh to his toes.  Naturally he is confined to a wheelchair while his legs heal.  He spent a few days in the hospital and then was moved to Ranken Jordan.  When asked 4 short days later if he wanted to play golf it would have been completely understandable if his reply had been negative.  It was anything but negative.  He excitedly grabbed a putter and started listening to anything and everything that would make him better.

It did not take long to realize that we were working with a natural putter!  He quickly learned the basics of a smooth stroke and began making putts on a regular basis.  Forty-five minutes after he started he was still going strong and excited that his mom had just arrived to watch him.  Not long after his mom got there he was telling her exactly what he wanted for his birthday:  an indoor putting mat, putter, and golf balls!  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly these kids pick up the game regardless of the physical limitations they are dealing with.  They show the same determination and drive to improve that any kid shows in every junior golf clinic across the country.  When you see the ear-to-ear smile after another made putt you are quick to remember why this program is so important.  And then there are those kids who tell you "I want to learn how to walk again" . . . and then they do it.

For those of you who have followed the blog from its inception you may recall that I mentioned that quote in a previous post.  In my almost 20 years in the golf industry I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of kids in private and group instruction and thought I had heard every conceivable goal (often they do not relate to golf but the kids tell us nonetheless).  Until this past fall I had never heard "I want to learn how to walk again."  Yes, this caught me a bit off guard.  And no, I did not have a clue how to respond.  All I could do was hand the young man a putter and move his wheelchair up to the putting green.

Over the next few weeks he came to golf regularly.  His putting got better in a hurry.  He learned how to hit chip shots and even took a few swings with the driver.  He did all of this from his wheelchair.  And then there was the day a couple of weeks before Christmas when he had me totally and utterly speechless.  On this particular Saturday he arrived for golf with several members of his family.  This is not abnormal at all.  We very often have family members come to watch and cheer on the kids.  The thing that caught my eye was the stander that was brought along.  When it came time to hit a few putts, the therapists helped him get properly situated with his stander.  He pulled himself up and was quickly strapped in to prevent him from falling.  We all watched in awe as he took several steps to the putting green, hit about 20 putts, and then walked back to his wheelchair.  There was nobody in the gym with dry eyes.

While most golfers, myself at the top of that list, will take off a few days because of pain or a minor injury, these kids obviously don't worry too much about the pain.  They enjoy the game and want to get better regardless of what may hurt.  Maybe the next time I think it would be best to skip a day because of a sore shoulder or back I will remember that amazing day right before Christmas 2012, push the pain to the side, and go out to practice.

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