Marne Faces, Marne Places - Stroke makes one-handed golfer tougher, not disabled
October 7, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Disabled is not how Employment Readiness Program Manager, Thomas Barnard would portray himself.
"I'm one of the most resilient people," lamented Barnard. "I get upset that I have not completely recovered from my stroke. I'm 23 years post stroke and I'm doing amazing, but I always knew I would."
Days after receiving his Air Force flight wings in early 1987, 24-year-old Barnard suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body.
"I bent over to tie my shoe and the blood clot was released into my system," Barnard said. "One of my classmates from flight school took me to the hospital and initially thought I was playing a trick on him."
A stroke is a fast developing loss of brain function due to a blood supply disturbance and is not often seen in young adults.
Doctors feared the worse for this once collegiate athlete and told his parents that he would be a vegetable for life. Barnard added, "I tell people I'm a vegetable with a master's degree and I like to walk the golf course. I'm right handed anyway so who cares."
While in the hospital, Barnard celebrated his 25th birthday and was medically retired in 1988 after serving only 18 months and 15 days in the military. By medical standards, Barnard is an exception because he only needed three years of physical and occupational therapy for post stroke.
"Most people don't see me and say, dude you had a stroke," Barnard said. I'm fortunate that I have recovered so well. To me, I'm not disabled it's just that my hand is broken and I read a little bit slower than I use too."
With sheer determination and perseverance Barnard taught himself skills that many non-handicapped people take for granted using the right side of his body.
He admits that wearing Velcro shoes was never an option so he taught himself how to tie his shoes under 30 minutes and currently types 25 words per minute using only his right hand.
While in rehabilitation in Chattanooga, Tenn., Barnard made the decision to further his education and started a master's degree program at the University of Tennessee. He jokingly admits to be the "only retired person in class." He went on to complete his degree in 1992.
Barnard has spent the past two decades working in the employment industry and currently works helping spouses and Family Members find employment at Fort Stewart.
"I probably have the most envious job within ACS; people come to me needing help and I help them 99 percent of the time," said Barnard. "They leave here feeling good and they have some new focus. Not many people are in the position where they can help others and make a real impact. What I do is like a lifelong impact."
In addition to helping participants find work, he reviews resumes and conduct mock interviews with his clients.
The 49-year-old's outlook on life has always been positive as far back as he can remember.
"Perspective is the key," commented Barnard. "Everybody is dealing with something. Some things resolve themselves. Some things take years. Perspective allows you to figure that in a month or so everything will be okay."
His love of golf was by accident. One day shortly after graduating with his master's degree he grabbed a club and made contact with the ball on the golf course. He asked his dad, "Have you ever seen someone play golf with one hand?" Now he plays golf just like the other players-just with one hand.
His best round of golf happened at Fort Stewart's Taylors Creek with a score of 79.
Barnard is about to celebrate his tenth wedding anniversary with wife Amanda and they are both looking forward to their upcoming vacation. He smiles and adds, "I finally found someone that can put up with me."
His second retirement as a DoD Civilian is not on the horizon any time soon. However, living a normal life "broken and disabled" is just what the doctor ordered.