Taking us on a golf outing? Are you kidding me? This has got to be some sort of joke.
Having never swung a golf club in his life and feeling far more at home on a baseball diamond than a driving range, White had always considered golf a sport he’d never play due to its notorious difficulty. Stepping onto the links for the first time in 2019, White scarcely knew an albatross from a double bogey. He had also recently become legally blind.
White, a Veteran of the United States Marine Corps, had his first experience with golf while participating in VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Program at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago. Now, after nearly four years of sharpening his game, he is headed to the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic in Iowa City, Iowa. White’s success on the golf course has been a journey of personal growth and empowerment that speaks to the way VA’s recreation therapy and blind rehabilitation programs change lives.
A diagnosis involving the loss of vision can mean dramatic changes in daily living and one’s outlook on life. Grappling with depression and doubt about life without his sight, White was drawn back to the experience he had on the golf course when searching for motivation.
“Sitting at home, I found myself thinking about how it felt to be on the course playing golf without a worry in the world,” he said. “When I was on the golf course, it was just me and that ball. It was peaceful. It was therapeutic. It was my life.”
More than helping him adjust to life without vision, White credits golf for other positive changes in his life that have made him healthier and more confident.
“Once I began practicing, I was concentrated on being a golfer. Golf kept me off the streets, out of bars, and away from drugs and alcohol,” said White. “Since I’ve been playing golf, I believe it’s put twenty years on my life. I have purpose and I can walk down the street with my chest out feeling proud of myself.”
According to VA Illiana Recreation Therapy Supervisor Travis Winkler, who works with White, results like this are what VA’s recreation therapy program is all about. He noted that a key approach of VA’s program is teaching Veterans how refocusing the mind on recreational activities can help drive out the debilitating effects of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
“The mind cannot be anxious when it is fully engaged in an activity that a person enjoys,” said Winkler. “Outcomes like the one Paul has experienced take hard work. Recreation therapy is an opportunity for Veterans to address and mitigate issues they have had. By discovering activities they enjoy, Veterans have a chance to put down the burdens they have carried.”
Thanks to his dedication, the next chapter in White’s journey is a chance to participate in the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic, an opportunity Winkler calls a testament to the dedication White has shown the game. The event, which traces its origins to 1994, strives “to provide adaptive golf instruction for Veterans who participate to make the game more accessible.” The Clinic’s goal “is to inspire Veterans to challenge their limitations and improve their quality of life by actively engaging in rehabilitation and therapy.”
“I’m a Marine and I love a challenge, and that’s how I approached golf,” said White. “I’m so proud to be going to this tournament and to be representing Danville. It will be an incredible chance to meet new people, make new friends, and come together with other golfers who have served their country.”
For White, the clinic is a chance to combine the skills he has learned through care at VA Illiana Health Care System and Chicago’s Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital. According to Melissa Winter, a Recreation Therapist with a Blind Rehabilitation Specialty at Hines, VA’s recreation therapy is an important part of the blind rehabilitation program.
“Sometimes, Veterans become less active when they start to lose their vision,” said Winter, who worked with White during his time at Blind Rehabilitation. “This could be because they just don’t know how to do their adaptive recreation and leisure activities anymore, they may face discouragement from others, or they may be facing depression because of their vision loss and lose their motivation. Working with Paul and other Veterans facing vision loss, we find recreation activities that work for them.”
Winter said White’s growth has been rewarding to watch because of the level of independence he has gained through his care.
“I told Paul about the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic while he was here as an inpatient and it’s wonderful to see him have the opportunity to attend,” said Winter. “A Veteran’s journey doesn’t stop here at the Blind Rehabilitation Center; it is just the beginning.”
As the largest integrated health care system in the United States, the Veterans Health Administration provides care all over the country to ensure Veterans like White have access to the specialties and services they need. White said the experience of receiving care in both Chicago and Danville couldn’t have been any easier.
“It was a seamless experience going between locations,” said White. “When I started Blind Rehabilitation, even before I began playing golf, I noticed that my entire care team in both Danville and Chicago was always on the same page. They had my records, my information, and it made it easier to focus on what I needed to do at rehab.”
Going forward, White aims to keep honing his game and stay focused on developing the skills he has learned through recreation therapy and blind rehabilitation.
“Golf gave me a new life,” said White. “VA gave me the skills I needed to live that new life to its fullest. Thanks to these programs and especially Mr. Jeff Stroud, my Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator, I feel like a new man. No matter what the future holds, I know I have the support I need to keep thriving on and off the golf course.”
For more information on the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic, visit the Clinic’s website at National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic.