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No limits: Boeing Classic Adaptive Clinic helps golfers of all abilities grow and heal
Ed Wilson grasps the club with both arms. Only one, his right, ends in a hand. His left arm links to a prosthetic, a red, white and blue-striped fork that fits around the club, giving Wilson added power and control. He drives the ball with practiced ease.
Wilson, a 21-year North Bend resident and competitive golfer, lost his left hand 18 years ago, after the packing unit of a recycling truck snagged his glove. The injury couldn’t keep him off the green, though.
“Sometimes, I think things are meant to be this way,” says Wilson.
That’s because his missing hand has led to many new friends, and many connections. Thanks to his involvement with the National Amputee Golf Association, he makes a difference: As a volunteer instructor, he goes to hospitals, meets people and teaches the game.
Wilson was among instructors who shared their love of the sport with people of all abilities at an adaptive golf clinic, held Tuesday, Aug. 22, as part of the Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. He wants to see the sport grow, and is happy to be connecting with players who might otherwise never tee off.
The Boeing Classic is “golf at its finest—the top players for the biggest bucks,” said Barbara Bond-Howard, a therapist at Virginia Mason Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle who coordinates the clinic, now in its third year on the Ridge. “But golf is something that all can try.”
Adaptive clinics allow people of all ages, with mild to severe physical disabilities and developmental challenges, to play golf. Some participants have played before, while others might otherwise have never been able to pick up the game.
Putting around the back green, Nathan Burklo, 2, was making his father proud.
“He does better than his dad,” Ryan admitted. “He hits them straighter and farther.”
Accompanied by his family, including mom Dyan and big sister Madison, Nathan played all he wanted, then called it an afternoon. Nathan has hemiplegia, a symptom of stroke, in which half of his body is weaker than the other. Golf helps strengthen his body.
Burklo was among six young people from North Bend’s Encompass preschool to take up clubs at the clinic.
Nearby, another youth participant, Brett Allen, took a brief break after driving near the covered range.
Mom Kris explained that Brett, 14, has cerebral palsy, and loves to golf. When his sister golfs in Bellevue, Brett hits the range. He wanted to find out how to make his shots go better. So, he took part in adaptive sessions, and learned about the Boeing Classic clinic.
“Now he knows how to hit,” Kris said. “His love of golf just increases. It was perfect—exactly what he needed.”
Clinic instructor W.C. Fields (his real name; he has a driver’s license to prove it) survived a tour in Vietnam and returned home relatively unscathed. He was a security guard at Disneyland when a car thief ran him over in a stolen motor home in 1976. His body was crushed. At 26, he lost both legs below the knee.
But Fields, who lives in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., made a quick recovery. Today, you might need to look two or three times before realizing that his shins are artificial.
“Golf is something I didn’t take up until I became an amputee,” Fields said. “I asked myself why I waited so long.”
He and other amputee instructors move around the TPC range with confidence and patience.
“Being an amputee is not the end of the world,” Fields said. While “You can’t choose this kind of stuff,” he said, “it can always be worse.”
Golf isn’t hard, Fields added.
“We’ve got people out here making contact with the ball that we might never expect would be successful,” he said.
Through “our presence, our knowledge, our experience, anything we have a chance to impart, we demonstrate that you don’t have to live inside, on a couch, eating bon-bons,” Fields said.
“Whatever he wants is good with me,” says instructor John Rizzo of Orting, while working with a golfer named Marvin, using a special Paragolfer vehicle, to play.
“If he can put a club face on the back of a ball, we have a win,” Rizzo says.
“It doesn’t matter how who you are or how good you are,” he added. “The game covers everything. It appeals to everybody.”
If you can get past the frustration, you find the real jewels, says Rizzo.
“It’s actually communication in a physical form,” he said. “You can yell at somebody and have it go too far. You can whisper and mumble and have it not hit your target. You do that with a golf ball, too.”
“Golf challenges all people, regardless of their situation in life,” said instructor Mike Freed of Liberty Lake. “This game offers a lot—not only to help you overcome things physically, but mentally.”
“You have to have discipline,” said Robert Budinch of Bonney Lake. He golfs one-handed now, with assistance from a special machine, called a Solocart, with a lifting seat that holds him in place as he swings with his right arm. “It takes discipline to get things moving again.”
A stoke in February of 2011 left him weak on his left side.
Budinich joked that he now has to play from the forward tees.
As physical therapy, the game is fun—it’s easy for Budinich to talk himself into playing. The activity strengthens his body.
“For me, it’s almost spiritual,” he says. “I’ve got to use my thinking.”
“The body will heal,” Budinich added. “You’ve got to give it nourishment and prayer.”
• You can learn more about the Boeing Classic at http://www.boeingclassic.com.
Photo by Clay Eals
Alex Nielsen, 6, of Sammamish, gets hands-on help with his swing from Stacie Lyons, physical therapist at Pinnacle Physical Therapy of Maple Valley during the Aug. 21 Adaptive Clinic of the 2012 Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. Alex was one of five Encompass youngsters who participated in the clinic, and Lyons was one of several golf and therapy pros who volunteered their services for the day.
Photo by Clay Eals
Shilpa Patel of Pinnacle Physical Therapy of Maple Valley and Bruce Nelson, on the board of American Lake Veterans Golf Course in Tacoma cheer a well-hit putt by Connor Stueckle, 20, of Issaquah, during the Aug. 21 Adaptive Clinic of the 2012 Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. Connor was one of five Encompass youths who participated in the clinic.