For about four months, Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation Center will offer a program that allows physically disabled individuals to explore an area of life that may have seemed off-limits after becoming disabled: physical recreation.
The Sheltering Arms Adaptive Golf Program, in partnership with McGuire Veterans Administration Hospital, the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Amputee Golf Association and the Stand Up and Play Foundation, is helping people with a myriad of physical disabilities enjoy the therapeutic benefits of a summer day out on the links.
“It’s a really outstanding program,” Doug Chaffins, a Powhatan resident and volunteer, said. “To see folks come out and enjoy physical activity again is really something special.”
The bulk of the program consists of a series of Adaptive Golf Clinics hosted by Windy Hill Sports Complex. They are available to individuals with all types of physical disabilities, including, but not limited to, brain trauma, amputees, stroke victims, paraplegics and quadriplegics.
The inaugural clinic took place on April 26, with subsequent dates on May 13, June 10, July 8, Aug. 25 and Sept. 9.
According to Chaffins, each clinic operates like an interactive seminar in which volunteers and accomplished instructors (like Janet Phillips, who has earned LPGA Class A status) teach disabled individuals how to use adaptive equipment, such as the ParaGolfer, to complete basic golfing activities, like driving, putting and chipping.
In addition to the clinics, Brandermill Country Club also is offering On-the-Course play on June 25 and Aug. 27. As the name suggests, On-the-Course events allow the disabled players to put the skills they absorbed at the clinic into practice by competing in a full round of golf.
“People often think that if they have a physical disability that they have to stop doing all those things that they love,” Alison Clarke, the Community Recreation Services director at Sheltering Arms, said. “Our goal is to introduce folks to the activity and show that they can get back to the game of golf with some adaptive techniques.”
Perhaps the most impressive piece of adaptive technology is the vaunted ParaGolfer.
Provided by the Stand Up and Play Foundation, the ParaGolfer is a state-of-the-art mobility device that is equal parts golf cart, wheelchair and leg stabilizer. A laudable feat of ingenuity and practicality, it allows mobility impaired individuals to stand eye-to-eye with their peers and accomplish physical tasks that may, at one time, have seemed impossible. This includes hitting a golf ball 150 yards at the driving range or sinking a 30-foot putt on a practice green or, perhaps best of all, playing a full 18 holes of golf with peers, friends and family.
The ParaGolfer is an all-terrain vehicle so – no matter where the ball ends up: in the rough, the woods or even a pesky sand trap -- the versatile apparatus can get there. Even locations that are off-limits to traditional golf cars, such as the pristine grass that covers the green, are free game for a roving ParaGolfer.
It was co-developed by Anthony Netto, who also founded the Stand Up and Play Foundation.
Netto, an avid golfer, was injured in a gruesome auto accident back in 1994 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Such an unspeakable tragedy could have bred contempt in Netto’s heart, but instead it inspired him to design a vehicle that would help disabled individuals become active again.
“It’s a wonderful piece of equipment,” Chaffins said. “In fact, after Lyn [Barrett] hit a shot the other day, she turned to me and said ‘I don’t want to sit back down! It’s such a great feeling being able to hit golf balls!'”
While there’s no doubt that the ParaGolfer is an invaluable tool, it should be made clear that all physically disabled individuals are encouraged to register for the program, not only those who would need to use the ParaGolfer.
There also is an end-of-summer golf tournament in the works, but no official date has been set.
"This has been a successful program and everyone who has come participated has had a great time," Chaffins added. "If you or someone you know is debating whether or not to come out, don't think twice."
If you are disabled and would like to sign up for a clinic, call Sheltering Arms a call at 804-764-5275.
Those interested in helping with the clinic as a volunteer may contact Doug Chaffins at 804-357-8066.