Disabled Soldiers Play Golf
Retired Sgt. Maj. Juan Garcia joined WTU Soldiers, Exceptional Family Members, PGA professionals and occupational therapists who participated in Hunter's First Swing workshop, where professionals learned how to work with and teach physically-challenged golfers.

HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. (Nov. 25, 2009) -- When Retired Sgt. Maj. Juan Garcia left Fort Stewart in 2003, he never thought he'd return to a military installation to play golf as a double amputee.

But on Nov. 16 and 17, Garcia returned to Hunter Army Airfield's driving range for the 'First Swing' workshop, offered by the National Amputee Golfers Association. Joining him were disabled Soldiers from the Warrior Transition Unit, along with about 20 golf professionals and occupational therapists, who came to learn how to encourage and teach the disabled to play.

Garcia, who plays golf regularly, was also there to encourage the sport.

"If they hit the ball just one time, they're hooked," he said, explaining his own reaction when he played for the first time.

Garcia lost his legs after suffering a heart attack in 2005 while playing racquetball.

"My kidneys failed and by blood flow stopped," he said. "It was either my legs or my life."

After rehabilitation and a period of adjustment, Garcia found that he could play golf again and it was a great outlet.

"Many disabled people just sit inside depressed with mental and physical wounds," he said. "But when they get out and play, there's no time for depression. They focus on the game, not their short comings.

Tommie McArthur, director of golf for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield said the workshop teaches golf professionals how to adjust their instruction to a person's physical restrictions. Physical and occupational therapists learn additional techniques and exercise methods. McArthur spent two days himself learning how to instruct the physically challenged at Fort Bragg, N.C., in April.

"It broadened my understanding of how prosthetics that are specially designed for golf moves, and the prosthetics' ability to give you movements," he said.

That knowledge helps him instruct physically challenged golfers at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.

Bob Wilson, a 20-year double amputee and the director of the National Amputee Golf Association, said golf is one of the best forms of therapy for the disabled.

"It's rehabilitative and recreative," he said. "Walking on the greens uses all your muscles. Outdoor sports are uplifting, and for me, the pain goes away when I play."

Professional Golfer's Association of America member John Fesperman, a Richmond Hill resident, attended the training.

"I have friends who've returned from Iraq with missing arms and legs," he said. "I'm here to learn to teach them how to play with an artificial limb."

"The reward is seeing them smile and doing what I believe God wants me to do - to help others," said Garcia.

Page last updated Wed November 25th, 2009 at 11:44