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!

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.

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