23rd Annual First Swing Seminar and Learn to Golf Clinic

In the Swing

"The clinic has been an inspiring example of a public-private community partnership involving Boas Surgical, a local manufacturer of prosthetic limbs and the first to sign on many years ago as a corporate sponsor."

For 23 years, Good Shepherd’s golf clinic for people with disabilities has been building friendships and lives of greater independence one swing at a time.

Some friendships are forged with time. Others by circumstance. Some through trial by fire. Others through sheer coincidence. For Tom Jordan, 67, and Steve Kave, 62, both of Bethlehem, their friendship has been shaped by all those things and the shared experience of being Vietnam veterans and amputees.

Over the years, something else has brought them closer together … a little game called “golf” and the annual National Amputee Golf Association (NAGA) First Swing Learn to Golf Clinic offered through a partnership of Good Shepherd’s recreational therapy department and the Eastern Amputee Golf Associ-ation (EAGA), an affiliate of NAGA. Now in its 23rd year, the clinic is the first and oldest of its kind in the country. Today, 42 such clinics are offered by NAGA around the country.

“It’s a game that everyone can play,” says Bob Buck of Bethlehem, executive director of EAGA, and a championship amputee golfer, “and whether you’re a double amputee or recovering from a stroke or have spina bifida or Multiple Sclerosis, there’s all kinds of adaptive equipment to use. Plus, it’s exercise, an opportunity to socialize, it tests your powers of concentration and it does wonders for your self-esteem. From that standpoint, it’s a wonderful sport.”

As they have for the past decade, Tom and Steve turned out for this year’s event on May 4 at Center Valley Club at Stabler Center, to brush up on their golfing technique from the pros and find out what’s new in adaptive golfing equipment. Naturally it was an opportunity to enjoy some buddy time and hit the links for a quick post-clinic round.

Steve, a Vietnam Army veteran who at 19 lost his left leg from injuries sustained when there was an explosion inside a Chinook helicopter, took up golfing years later after a chance meeting around town with Bob Buck. Bob, also a Vietnam veteran who lost his right leg from medical complications as the result of a 1969 automobile accident, asked Steve if he was interested in golf. Steve’s reply was, “Are you crazy? How can I play golf?”

Intrigued nonetheless and never having golfed before, Steve gave it a try and started attending various NAGA events. Soon, he was hooked and over the years, has participated in tournaments on Long Island, Connecticut and Canada.

“It gets me outdoors,” says Steve, “I used to hunt and fish but stopped because I always needed someone to depend on.” Golf, he discovered, was something he could do on his own.

Steve got Tom involved in EAGA after they met about 14 years ago at the Bethlehem Municipal Golf Course. Tom, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, was serving in Vietnam in 1966 when he was ambushed in a rice paddy. The attack resulted in his left leg being amputated.

“I had no idea there were amputee golfers,” Tom recalls, admitting with a good-natured chuckle that at first he thought Steve was “nuts.” Still, the two hit it off and became golfing buddies. “This really brought me out more,” Tom says. “When you see all these amputees golfing, you can’t believe it.”

“We have a lot of fun together,” Steve says. “I also enjoy being around other amputees, meeting other people. You realize you’re not the only one out there.”

Linda Bollinger, a recreational therapist at Good Shepherd overseeing the Fitness and Aquatic Wellness program, has been involved with the clinic since its inception, helping to make it the well-run success it is today.

“That first clinic, we brought our own tent, which we had to rent, pick up and set up ourselves, as well as the chairs and tables, the grill and cook all the food. It was a huge undertaking,” Linda says. “But I’ve gained so much awareness and knowledge about golf adaptations and skills, and the adaptive devices for golf have evolved considerably over the years.”

First Swing began when Bob Buck, then eastern trustee for the National Amputee Golf Association, approached Laird McCubbin, then director of recreational therapy for Good Shepherd’s inpatient hospital rehabilitation program, about starting a golf clinic for people with disabilities. The Allentown Municipal Golf Course was the chosen site. “Amputees were the focus but we wanted to be open to everyone,” says Laird, now a licensed massage therapist, noting that clinic participants include people who have had brain injury or suffered a stroke. “Some of the same people have been coming every year.”

The clinic has been an inspiring example of a public-private community partnership involving Boas Surgical, a local manufacturer of prosthetic limbs and the first to sign on many years ago as a corporate sponsor, and The Spirit of Hope Foundation, founded by Donna Marie Garze, herself an amputee and EAGA life member who also runs an annual golf tournament every year and donates the proceeds to supporting recreational therapy events like this as well as to Good Shepherd’s pediatrics program.

The morning session brought together recreational therapists from Good Shepherd and other rehabilitation therapists, and golf pros to learn about some of the latest in assistive golfing equipment and tips for teaching people with disabilities.

In the afternoon, clinic participants gathered on Center Valley Club’s driving range where people with disabilities had a chance to try something new and brush up their game with help from the pros.

Seventy-six-year-old Henriette Bru of Allentown, a right leg amputee, was a first-time clinic attendee thrilled to pick up a beloved sport she thought she’d never play again.

Henriette, a retired piano teacher who used to play volleyball and has been a golfer since she was 21, hadn’t had a golf club in her hand in about seven years. Health problems, including poor circulation and four bypass surgeries, began curtailing her activities, eventually leading to the amputation of her leg on Christmas Eve 2007.

When she heard about the First Swing clinic during an inpatient stay at Good Shepherd, it didn’t take her long to decide to attend. Sitting in her wheelchair, Henriette swung her club with great enthusiasm, relishing the fresh air and friendship, a welcome respite from several months of home care. She also picked up some valuable pointers, such as the importance of strategically placing two pillows to stabilize her body and keep her from sliding forward.

“I think this is great,” she says. “Everyone’s been so helpful. It feels wonderful.”

For recreational therapists like Linda, that’s what it’s all about.

”It is so satisfying and rewarding to see people increase their health and wellbeing by returning to their recreational interests,” she says. “And sometimes, with a few modifications or adaptive devices, it makes all the difference in the world to their self-esteem and their motivation for rehabilitation and life.”

(Written By Elizabeth McDonald)

This is being reprinted with permission from Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network.

Credit: Randy Monceaux Photography 


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