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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What Wheelchair?

"I can't play golf in a wheelchair."

This is the reply I received from a new patient at Ranken Jordan when I asked him if he wanted to play golf with us.  Before responding to him I slowly looked around, making sure he saw what I was doing, and looked at the other 4 junior golfers who were already outside rolling putts, hitting chip shots, and working on their swing.  As we looked he noticed the same thing I did.  All 4 of the other kids who were out there were in wheelchairs as well.  Each one was smiling, laughing, and having a good time.  If not for the pediatric hospital we walked through to get to the field you might think we were at any golf course or driving range on a typical summer day.

Getting comments like the one above are not necessarily uncommon, although they certainly are not normal, either.  Most of the kids who come to our golf clinics are very positive and upbeat right from the beginning.  Occasionally we will see someone like this who initially is a bit skeptical.  Fortunately through the amazing work done by the staff at Ranken Jordan and the success we have had with the golf program, the skepticism does not last long!  His early hesitation gave way to learning how to putt.  It only took a short amount of time before the first putt went in and we saw a huge smile!  After making several more putts he moved to hitting some chip shots and quickly got the hang of it.  Before leaving for a scheduled therapy session he promised to practice during the week and would be ready for more golf the following Tuesday.

Part of me likes hearing comments like the one at the start of this post.  In a way I take it as a challenge to prove to them that they can play golf.  As long as the kids who feel this way are willing to give golf a try, they will soon see that playing golf is definitely possible.  Usually all it takes is one made putt or one solid shot and they are hooked!  Proving to the kids that they can play golf regardless of their medical situation is one part of the significant benefits the kids receive from playing golf.  Just because they may be in a wheelchair or have other physical limitations does not mean they cannot participate in activities just like every other kid.  The physical requirements of golf allow for a wide variety of benefits as related to their physical therapy.

Later during the same clinic that I've been discussing I was watching one of our "regulars" as she was rolling some putts.  While watching I told her how much her putting stroke has improved since she started playing golf.  Initially we had to help her play hand-over-hand as she was not strong enough to grip the club by herself.  At the beginning she also fatigued easy and had difficulty sitting up in her wheelchair for an extended period of time.  Over time her strength and stamina began improving.  As we were talking about her improved putting stroke she told me her hands were getting stronger and that was what she felt was helping the most.  She also told me that golf has been a big reason for her improvement.  Her desire to play more golf and play better golf has her working harder during her therapy sessions.  She also has been playing and practicing more in between clinics and has noticed how much easier it is for her to grip the club.

Golf is presenting opportunities to these kids that they may never have seen.  All of the kids who play look forward to "Golf Day" as they call it and ask the therapists to get the golf equipment out at other times during the week.  Physical, social, and emotional benefits are readily apparent in all of the kids who have played.  During the weekly golf clinics dreams have been realized, first steps have been taken, and expectations have been shattered.  Every week there is another success story, more incredible memories, and smiles that cannot be erased.  The kids who were initially hesitant to pick up a club have seen that playing golf is a very real possibility.  And those people outside the hospital who don't feel these kids can play . . . you have been proven wrong as well.

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