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One Veteran’s Journey Back to the Green

Bill Hill, an Army Veteran who suffered a spinal cord injury, plays golf with the aid of a
Bill Hill, an Army Veteran who suffered a spinal cord injury, plays golf with the aid of a "paragolfer" -- an all-terrain specialty mobility device that lifts people from a sitting to standing position.

LOUISVILLE, KY - Imagine your life being turned upside down in a day. This was the case for Army Veteran, William "Bill" Hill and his wife, Anne. In June 2019, Bill suffered from a blood clot leading to a spinal cord injury (SCI). Since the incident, he has worked tirelessly to gain function and independence.

Through the rehab process, Bill has used the Professional Golf Association's (PGA) PGA HOPE program as an opportunity to embrace the sport he's always loved. PGA HOPE was launched in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs as a way for recreational therapists to refer patients who could use golf as therapy during typically long rehabilitation processes.

"I played golf before my SCI June of 2019," Bill said. "The past two-and-a-half years have been filled with hours of rehab and medical issues. Having the opportunity to connect with this golf experience was very encouraging. Everyone involved in the program has done their best to make the experience worthwhile."

In addition to free golf instruction for Veterans, PGA HOPE provides specialty equipment to help participants adapt. For example, Bill has been using a device called the "paragolfer" to assist with his ability to swing a golf club. The paragolfer is an all-terrain special mobility device that lifts people from a sitting to a standing position.

At Bill's first golf session, along with the help of staff from the Robley Rex Medical Center and local PGA golf professionals, he was able to stand upright for only about one to two minutes. As he progressed, he stood 10 minutes continuously while hitting the golf ball with one hand.

"With each session, I witnessed Bill not only improving his golf skills," Physical Therapist Brittany Rainbow stated, "but I could see him reconnecting to a sport he's passionate about. As a therapist, an outlet like this is important to the recovery process and is a real asset to our Veterans."

In addition to Veterans with SCI, PGA HOPE offers programs that focus on Veterans living with physical or cognitive challenges such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and amputees, among other challenges.

The Department of Veterans Affairs research and clinical experience verify that physical activity is important to maintaining good health, speeding recovery, and improving the overall quality of life. For many injured Veterans, adaptive sports like golf provide their first exposure to physical activity after injury.

In addition to golf, the Robley Rex VA Medical Center also offers Veterans (through community partnerships) the chance to rock climb, cycle, fly fish, and scuba dive as a part of the Adaptive Sports & Therapeutic Arts program. The goal is to motivate, encourage, and sustain participation and competition among disabled Veterans through partnerships with VA clinical personnel and national and community-based programs.

One of those partners is the PGA. Since its inception in 2015, PGA HOPE has worked with over 2,500 Veterans across the country.

"Thanks to the passion and dedication of PGA Professionals who continue to drive the success of the program, PGA HOPE helps Veterans find inspiration and rehabilitation through the game of golf," said PGA President Jim Richerson. "Every Veteran that we inspire through golf is a success story, and we want to reach as many of our nation's heroes as possible who need our help and support."

In Kentucky, there are currently PGA HOPE chapters in Louisville and Florence, with plans for new chapters in 2022. Thus far, over 150 local Veterans have taken advantage of the PGA HOPE program.

"Our partnership with PGA HOPE is very important because it allows Veterans to improve their physical and emotional health," Rainbow stated. "Seeing Bill and Anne together rediscover the sport of golf has been inspiring for me as well."

Anne Hill also appreciates the growth opportunities that the program has provided to her and her husband.

"I have great respect for everyone involved in PGA Hope," she said. "The efforts of many gave my husband the opportunity to participate in a sport we both enjoyed before the SCI. It gave him something to look forward to and a few goals to achieve. It was a challenge and great exercise physically and mentally for both of us."

For more information on how to participate in one of the adaptive sports programs through the Robley Rex Medical Center, call 502-663-9030. For more information on PGA HOPE and how Veterans can join, visit Golf House Kentucky.

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