Wounded veterans recover through sport
Three-day golf camp boosts confidence, camaraderie
It appeared like a normal golf lesson with small groups of golfers hitting chip shots long, hooking a few shots off the practice tee and leaving putts short.
However, there were also many good shots that brought high fives and huge smiles to the faces of these novice golfers.
The golfers were Marines and other wounded Armed Forces veterans who were taking part in a three-day golf camp July 22-24 at Inverness Golf Club.
Team Semper Fi is the athletic program for Semper Fi Fund that invited the group of 22 veterans to help bolster their recoveries by teeing it up and having some fun.
“Team Semper Fi's motto is recovery through sport,” said Casey Fisher who is the program director for the athletic program. “What we strive to do at every event whether it is like this, a triathlon event, camp, or marathon is to provide an opportunity and a situation that is safe, comfortable and can aid in their recovery.
“They not only learned something but something they can take with them and share with their other Marines that are injured and may not have been a part of this to help them in their recovery. Traumatic Brain Injury is a scary thing. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is also a very scary thing. These service members need to know that somebody cares about them after they're out, whether it's the VA or a group like ours, their family or whomever.”
Chris Bowers was injured in 2007 during combat operations in Western Iraq and had his left leg amputated below the knee.
Bowers has been playing golf competitively for three years but came to Arapahoe County from Virginia with hopes of introducing other injured servicemen to the game and boost their recoveries.
“To see the change from not being able to hit a ball to hitting great shots was really neat to watch,” said Bowers. “At lot of these guys had never played a round of golf. To watch them get frustrated then hit a good shot and build confidence was neat. Having an outlet to go out and compete is really cool.
“Golf was a good part of getting me out of the hospital and back outside. I learned to play golf after I lost my leg. It's really been an outlet for me. I take it seriously and push myself to play well. In my group I had one guy out of three that had played 18 holes. We kept it upbeat and light and he said it was one of the best days he's ever had after his injury.”
Keith Jeter, who was deployed to Afghanistan, had only played golf once seven years ago prior to the three-day camp that concluded with an 18-hole round.
“I learned a lot, like how to swing, how to stand and be calm,” he said. “I got mad a couple times and I could tell that I was doing bad.
“This week has helped me a lot. I met a lot of cool guys, got numbers and contacts if I need anything. It was a good time to get away. We had fun all week.”
Inverness assistant golf professional Jim Edfors headed the list of instructors.
“It was presented to them as a game of a lifetime and it is something they can carry with them into old age,” said Edfors. “They were all looking for something new having been injured in war and trying to rebuild their lives.
“Golf is something that is accessible for them and they were excited about it. A lot of these guys are athletes, they are looking to do something athletic again. There wasn't any quit in them.”
Rick Ellefson, a Colorado PGA pro who helped tutor the golfers, was impressed.
“They were really ecstatic about being here,” he said. “It was a good break from where they've been at and it helped the mind a little bit because a lot of them have been struggling with their injuries or their traumatic brain injury or PTSD. It was great medication for them.
“I played with the group I worked with in a scramble using my ball as well but we didn't use my ball every shot, not even close. There were a lot of good shots out of those guys. They did really well.”
Fisher claims he often receives good response from some veterans after the various athletic events offered.
“We do these mini rodeos for 10 or 12 guys that come out,” related Fisher. “One of these guys was borderline suicidal. The only time he could function or get back into being a normal guy again was on a horse. I remember when I first met him, he was fighting all the time, just angry. He was angry at the world because he had been blown up and he has PTSD and his knees are bad and he used to be this unbelievable athlete.
“But when he's around a horse he's the happiest guy you'll ever meet. We actually donated a horse to him so he could ride whenever he wants. He's said multiple times to me, `you've saved my life.' I get chills talking about it.”