Golf Saved My Life

The Game Made Me Feel Whole Again

Continued (page 2 of 2)

In the summer of 2002, I took my first steps without crutches. That fall I was watching TV when golf came on. It seemed strange, and the clothes were funny, but I was intrigued because the players were walking, not running. I had never seen or even heard of this sport. I asked Mr. Manley if he had ever heard of it. He had.

"Can I try it?" I asked.

"Sure," he said. "But it's a lot harder than they make it look on television."

The next week we traveled to The First Tee in Columbus, and I took my first swings. Every time I swung I fell down, but I accepted this as part of the sport. The farther I hit the ball, the happier I would be picking myself off the ground. The people from The First Tee were very helpful. They gave me three irons, a driver and a putter to take home. Right away I loved the sport, and it was a turning point in my happiness.

Mr. Manley took up golf, too, and we started going to the range every day. In the beginning I woud lean back against a topless golf cart so I could hit balls without falling.

Hector Manley

Hector's biological parents, Arnoldo and Noehmi Anabel de Castro, of El Salvador, allowed their son to be adopted by an American family so he could receive the medical care he needed to walk again.
Photos: Courtesy of the Manleys

The first time I ever played 18 holes was in a high school varsity event as a freshman. Walking the front nine and taking a cart for the back, I shot 126. A couple of times my competitors helped me in and out of steep bunkers. On the last few holes I grew so tired that my only goal was to finish. (The muscles in my lower back essentially bear the entire task of moving my prosthetics.) There were boys who shot in the 70s, but my score was not last. Two kids finished behind me. Seeing my name in Magic Marker on the board was a thrill.

My sophomore year Mr. and Mrs. Manley sold their business and moved to Naples, Fla. My new school, Seacrest Country Day, didn't have a golf team, so I campaigned to start one. Our first-year record was 2-8, but my senior year we were 18-4. I was the captain all three years, and my lowest competitive round was a three-over-par 74. I never had lessons. The best advice I received came from a golf pro who told me my swing was destined to be unique, so it was up to me to master it. Fatigue is, and always will be, an element in my game. I can hit an 8-iron 150 yards, but usually by the back nine I'm hitting a punch 6-iron from this distance.

I'm now a senior at the University of Tampa. I don't play for the school, but I continue to compete in amputee tournaments and local matches. I've also spent my last few summers as an instructor at The First Tee of Naples/Collier chapter. Golf changed my life, and I enjoy teaching kids the game because it can do the same for them.

The first time my father traveled to the United States was for my high school graduation. I took him to a course so I could show him what golf was. He had never seen a club before. He was amazed at how far the ball flew and how difficult it was to follow in flight. Though he didn't fully understand the game, he is competitive like me and told me to keep working at it, to get as good as I can.

Like most golfers, every time I start a round, I feel it will be my best ever.

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