Statement of David B. Windsor
Principal Instructor, Professional Golfers' Association of America, Adaptive Golf Academy, Inc.
Experience has shown that early intervention with active sports results in successful rehabilitation. Individuals in the recovery process, whether it’s brain or spine injury, speech or limb loss, poor awareness, impulsive behaviors, judgment or balance issues, are frequently detached or disconnected from their communities, and worse, their own families. This isolation only tallies up more problems resulting from their injuries. It’s a fact that a disability, injury puts you in a lonely place mentally, socially. Introducing and involving patients into a “fail-proof” activity within a positive environment takes their minds off “therapy” and allows their recovery process to be self-initiated. The fact of getting outside, on the golf course, to network with their peers facing similar issues, provides our veterans and service men and women the consistent platform essential for their level of connection, hence, improved family and community relationships.
The James A. Haley VA Adaptive Golf program was introduced on Friday, September 28, 2007 and has continued every Friday since. (approaching 3 years) The program consists of JAH in-patients brought by therapists to Terrace Hill GC, a nearby course, where they are greeted by a PGA Professional, (Ken Juhn) and members of AVAST, Amputee VA Support Team, (a group of area out-patients and volunteers). The Friday JAH Adaptive Golf program has been more than just a weekly “golf outing” but rather a vital part of their rehabilitation process and community re-integration practice.
For the record, this is not the first program of it’s kind. This is an extension of a weekly program that developed in 1998 in Sarasota, FL with the involvement of myself as the PGA Professional and therapists and clients from the community. As a club professional at the time, I first saw the program as just helping folks get better at hitting the golf ball. I soon realized there was more to it, much more to why folks were coming out week after week with their therapists and caregivers. Everyone participating experienced first-hand how the restorative properties of the game of golf positively enhanced their lives. Just on the practice tee, inherently positive essential life skills are applied and evaluated such as range of motion, balance, hand-eye coordination, depth perception and an array of fine motor skills. During the “on-course” portion of each weekly session, students learn about USGA rules, proper etiquette, team-oriented playing formats, making proper club selection and mapping their course strategies. These lessons require participants to use life skills such as judgment for decision-making, courtesy for others, honesty for scorekeeping, building a more confident individual through perseverance. These physical and cognitive skills are more often taken to new heights where experiences can go far beyond words for these veterans and staff.
While many recreational therapy programs offer themselves as rehabilitation or performance enhancements, adaptive golf sets itself apart, offering many unique potentials for both clients and therapists. First, the golf swing is one of the most complicated movements in all sports. It requires stability in some joints and flexibility in others, creating multiple avenues for a therapist’s assessment of the client. A common testimony from therapists observing patients on the course; Apparent improvement in clients range of motion in trunk and/or shoulder rotations once they were handed a golf club and a ball was placed on a tee! Why? A thought re-direction, the mind shifts from say…an injured hip (their primary concern) to another focal point, triggering an integration of other able functions/flexors such as feet, knees and opposite hip for overall increased rotation.
Program participants who never thought golf was a viable recreational opportunity now have discovered its inherent values, both spiritual and physical. Even those suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) depart a Friday session with an entirely different outlook. "They come back to the hospital talking golf," said Jim Switzer, the amputee case manager for James Haley Hospital. "Many can't wait to get back out again."
"At the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, FL, our active duty soldiers and veterans who face physical challenges or complicated barriers with their PTSD, depression, and/or traumatic brain injuries, are encouraged to reach functional independence so they can get back to their lives.….of all recreational activities, we favor the adaptive golf experience the most as it introduces the concept to help our patients maximize their new potentials…..with adaptive golf, this process of recovery is self initiated."
Kathryn Bryant, CTRS
Capt. Mark – survived Blackhawk helicopter crash in N. Italy during training exercise in November 2007. 1 of 5 survivors of a crew of 11. Grew up playing ice hockey near Cleveland and during his first visit to the golf course he stated to me from his wheelchair, “I can’t wait to ice skate again someday!” Comparison of the video clips of his swing on his first visit to those three months later was remarkable, would astound you. After just little time around Mark, it was apparent that helping him hit better drives down the fairways was motivating his drive life!
Gunner Jim – survived Humvee roadside blast. His first time out, he didn’t even think about swinging a club. “I was happy to just get out of the hospital for a little while,” he said. Then he was introduced to the Solorider golf car, a golf car designed for wheelchair players to become more upright to swing the club better and complete access to the golf course. “You know, we have classes with therapists and they’re great, but we’re inside. For me, being outdoors and having people like this to help crack a few balls….this is my best day of therapy!”
To sum it up, the JA Haley Adaptive Golf program has become a driving force in the rehabilitation process for which Veterans, active military personnel with disabilities can re-learn and develop skills which they thought were beyond their capabilities. Physically, adaptive golf improves individuals’ balance, coordination, endurance and functional ability to perform daily activities, decreasing risks of falls and injuries and increasing overall quality of life. Mentally, it helps train individuals to focus on more positives and develop better everyday life and judgmental skills, self-esteem, confidence, independence and feeling of dignity, giving new hope to expand their horizons as they transition back into civilian life.
The next opportunity you have on a Friday morning to come visit the JA Haley adaptive golf program, I encourage you to do so and see for yourself why every Friday is Veterans Day at Terrace Hill Golf Club.