Golf clinic makes everyone a winner
August 29, 2012
By Sebastian Moraga
On a cloudy summer day, two men stood on one end of the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge golf course. They weren’t alone, but they may as well have been.
A cart drove by, combing the grass a good 40 yards away at the least. One man turned to the other and said 100 bucks were on the line if his buddy could decorate the cart with the imprint of a flying golf ball.
The other man smiled. In fact, he hadn’t stopped smiling in who knows when. He grabbed his club with his left arm, reared back and swung.
No hundred bucks for him today, but Don Risan still felt like a victor. The ball landed short of the cart, but it had flown off of his club before flopping to the grass.
Felled almost 20 years ago by a stroke that limited his speech, the use of his right arm and his balance, Risan took to golf about a year ago. Every swing of his left arm that meets with the ball, even those that roll down the slope with the speed of the last day of school, mean a victory for him.
“He golfed before, so it’s wonderful to see him out here, pursuing his interests,” said Margot Howell, a therapeutic recreation specialist from Spokane, who witnessed Risan and his new friend Jim Martinson make the friendly wager.
Risan and Martinson were among the scores of amputees, stroke survivors and children with disabilities participating in the Boeing Classic’s adaptive golf clinic, where a golf instructor like Martinson and a therapist like Howell helped a golfer like Risan swing a club.
Golf helps people practice things like their balance, their concentration and it’s a good outdoor workout.
Martinson lost both his legs during the Tet Offensive in 1968. Strapped to a ParaGolfer — a golf cart for people with disabilities like his, complete with electronic seats — he coached, prodded and encouraged Risan to keep golfing.
“If you come back here and you haven’t practiced,” he told Risan, “I’m going to kick you in the butt. I got little short legs but they still hurt.”
Martinson said he wants Risan to start setting golf goals for himself, like going to driving ranges or signing up for tournaments.
On this day, the goal is to hit the ball off the tee. Like any golfer, Risan can’t hide his frustration when one swing swooshes past the ball.
“You missed it but you missed it by a little tiny bit,” Martinson said, encouraging Risan to try again. Sure enough, the next swing was perfect: Tee remains in place, ball loses itself in flight.
“Beautiful,” Howell said.
Next to him, swinging right handed so his back is to Risan, is a man with five legs.
Two sprout downward from his waist, one made of flesh and blood, the other one of titanium. The other three sit on the backseat of his car, for now.
“I’ve got a running leg, a swimming leg, a golfing leg and a regular leg,” said Ron Carver a 53-year-old from Rainier, who lost his leg at age 18 in a horse-riding accident.
The regular leg has a gap next to the big toe so the user can wear flip-flops.
The golfing leg is made so the knee can rotate and the golfer can pivot sideways, giving his swing more speed.
“It’s made a big difference for golf amputees,” said Ed Wilson, a North Bend man who lost his arm in a work accident with a recycling truck 18 years ago, and now hosts his own amputee golf tournament in Kent.
The same year of the accident, Wilson heard about a man in Longview golfing with no arms. They met and months later Wilson entered his first tournament.
“I played one-handed until 2003,” Wilson said.
He plays two-handed now, with a prostheses that ends in a u-shaped piece. Wilson slides the club into the end of the prostheses, and swings. The ball takes flight, just like it did for Risan and his smile and for Carver and his magic leg.
The jokes, the wagers, the camaraderie grow by the minute. The skies never clear, the swings never stop.
Off to the side, Martinson and Howell prepare a certificate of appreciation for Risan, who keeps giving that dimpled ball the business.
“He’s just got to think past the idea that he’s disabled,” Martinson said from his ParaGolfer. “He just does things differently.”
Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or email@example.com. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com