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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Swinging Away With Dakota

Determination and perseverance are two very important qualities to have for anyone who wants to improve their golf game.  Golfers everywhere who have taken a lesson or tried to make a swing change completely understand this.  Trying to incorporate something learned from your local PGA Professional or from one of the many great instructional shows on the Golf Channel is indeed a daunting task.  Initially many changes to your set up, grip, or swing will feel very uncomfortable and likely have you mumbling under your breath (or loudly depending on how uncomfortable).  Looking back on my own game I remember grip changes and swing plane changes that had me feeling like I had never before held a golf club.  I recall thinking there is no way I am going to be able to make these changes and feel good making a swing.  This type of thought is common on driving ranges and golf courses across the United States and around the globe.  Once we get a golf club in the hands of our junior golfers at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis those thoughts never enter the minds of the kids.

Those of you who read this blog regularly might recall a young man I have spoken of often and fondly named Dakota.  Since getting over his initial reluctance to play golf he has become one of our most dedicated players.  To Dakota Saturdays are golf days.  Of course every other day of the week is also a golf day in his mind!  I know every week when I get to the hospital I will hear his stories of how many golf balls he hit during the week or what he's working on in his golf swing.  I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to hear from the kids that they enjoy golf so much that they want to play more than just one day a week!  During his time at Ranken Jordan we have had to make several changes and modifications to Dakota's swing.  In his case I say "we" because it truly is a team effort.  He seems to make as many suggestions about improvements as any of the golf professionals who work with him.  At a recent clinic those suggestions were freely flowing but they were not related to swing changes.  Dakota was directing Janine Roe, Community Programs Director at Ranken Jordan, on how to properly position his hospital bed so he could make the biggest swing possible.

This type of thing is not uncommon at Ranken Jordan.  As the kids progress through their rehabilitation and their bodies heal we naturally have to make changes to how we teach them.  Sometimes the changes include casts on their left arm one week and right arm the next week, improvements in strength, flexibility, and stamina, or getting out of their wheelchair to take their first steps and playing golf standing up.  And then there are the times that the kids go back and forth from their hospital bed to their wheelchair with some time in a golf cart mixed in.  That was exactly the case this past week with Dakota.  He came to golf in his hospital bed and refused to let it slow him down.  Due to being in the bed he was unable to make the same long, smooth swing that he typically does from his wheelchair, but he quickly realized he could still work on the swing changes we have been focusing on the past couple of weeks.  To get in the best position to swing he certainly kept Janine on her toes until she had his bed situated just right.  After that the volunteers picking up golf balls quickly became human targets!

Dakota is easily one of the most inspirational people I have been fortunate enough to meet through the game of golf.  After initially resisting the game he soon learned he loved to play and has worked hard to see continuous improvement.  In his own words he has told me that "golf turns a bad day into a good day."  Many of us (I am at the top of the list) will use a stiff shoulder or sore back as a reason not to play golf or practice.  Dakota doesn't let being in his hospital bed or anything else keep him from his practice.  He perseveres through the difficulties put in front of him and is determined to keep playing.  In fact, there is a good chance he is working on his golf game as you read this.  Which reminds me, I better get in some putting practice on the carpet so Dakota doesn't beat me next week!

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