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Golf Saved My Life

Competing Is The Most Fun Thing I Do

January 2013

I didn't speak for 20 years except a little to my mom. To teachers and even my brother and dad, I wrote notes. When I try to remember why I didn't talk, all I see are shoes. Shoes under desks and shoes walking down hallways. I was so painfully shy that I couldn't look even my mom in the eyes. Sometimes, alone in my room, I would say things to remember I had a voice.

I have Down syndrome, which is an intellectual disability. After I was born, a doctor told my parents it would be best to leave me in an institution. My mom always spoke badly about this doctor.

I saw a therapist every week for nine years. I can't tell you what she looked like; I only wrote her notes. I learned to write at age 6, same as other kids, though I don't write fast. I repeated every grade twice until fourth, but then I did better. The only time I ever took an IQ test I scored 33, but this is wrong.

Now that I look up, I can pick out babies and people who have Down syndrome. Many are my friends who I play golf with in the Special Olympics. Port Charlotte is half an hour in the car from our new house in Florida. From May through September when it's hot and the courses aren't busy, we train once a week with coach Dave (Faulk) and then have our tournament at the end. Any medals I get I hang on my wall.

I remember my first lesson. Bob (Gavelek) is still the pro at Bartlett Hills Golf Club in Illinois, where we used to live. My mom told him I was nonverbal. Bob put a ball in my hand and had me hold it. Then he took my wrist and showed me how the ball could roll across the green. "This is how we putt," he said. I liked Bob. I trusted him. And because golf was so fun, I started slowly coming out of my shell.

People tell me I'm good at focusing on one thing at a time. After high school I worked at a Walmart stocking shelves. For 12 years I worked at a restaurant, busing tables. I keep my room very neat. Coach Dave says my pre-shot routine is as good as anybody's. I've never broken 100, but I've come close.

When I was 22, I was asked to be a Global Messenger for the Special Olympics. This meant giving speeches to spread awareness for our cause. I didn't understand why they had picked me. Even though I really wanted to help, I didn't think I could give a speech. I was still barely talking.

Sandy Hutchins, our area director for the Special Olympics, said she knew I could do it. She said there was something deep inside my heart I didn't even know about, and it would feel amazing to let it out. So I attended the three-day school where they taught us how to give speeches.

My first speech was to a local high school volleyball team. Because of my stutter, I was worried the words would not come out. I couldn't look at anyone, but I got through the whole thing. I said that I dream about golf and that competing is the most fun thing I do all year. Everyone stood up to clap, and my mom cried because she'd never heard me talk for minutes at a time. The father of a girl on the team, Tom Reasoner, became my partner in the Special Olympics' unified golf, which is what we call alternate shot.

I'm 35, but sometimes strangers guess I'm as young as 12. We moved last year when my dad retired, and the tendinitis in my elbows is feeling better in the warm weather. Our new house is boring, and I hope we can get some arcade games soon. There's nowhere to have a job, but that's OK. I'm happy because there's more time for golf.

Each morning I wake up and fix myself cereal, watch cartoons, then go to my room to draw or write words. I've kept the same dictionary with pictures for years, and each day I copy its words on paper and save them. My favorite word is "intellectual."

In the afternoon, I hope that my mom takes me to play golf. The course is only three minutes away.

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