A New Challenge
Take Larry Hughes, a disabled golfer who hadn't touched a
club in more than 40 years. Learning the game was just another
hurdle in what will inevitably become another athletic success
story in the 55 year old's long list of achievements.
Larry Hughes, left, poses with
playing partner Cheryl J. Hazel. (Courtesy Larry Hughes)
The American record holder in his classification in the discus,
javelin and shot-put, Hughes captured a gold medal in the discus,
recording a personal-record 41.34 meters, at the 1996 Paralympic
Games in Atlanta.
"It was the most incredible time in my life," he said.
"The odds were stacked against me -- I had a cracked elbow
-- and still I managed to become a finalist in all of the
Yet overcoming adversity is nothing new for Hughes, who is a
paraplegic as a result of Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus.But Hughes
doesn't let his physical condition impede his quest to
participate in athletics. Despite his disability Hughes said,
"The desire to compete on such a high level isn't over
He lives by the motto, "If better is possible, then good
isn't enough." He spreads his message as a motivational
speaker, consultant and coach for other athletes, in addition to
his main focus of training for the 2004 Paralympic Games in
Despite his full plate, Hughes found time recently to return to
golf. He was introduced to the game as a youngster and became
involved again when, serving as a member of the Baltimore County
Disability Commission, he heard about a Project GAIN golf site
coming to Baltimore.
"Whenever anything athletic comes up at those
meetings," he said, "everyone points to me."
Project GAIN, which is an initiative of the National Alliance for
Accessible Golf, facilitates the inclusion of people with
disabilities, not only into golf, but also into the fabric of
their community. It is funded by grants from the USGA, PGA Tour
and PGA of America. Currently there are four Project GAIN sites
located in Baltimore, Chicago, Sacramento and Salt Lake City,
where golfers with disabilities are taught the ins and outs of
the game, and teaching professionals are given information about
how to teach golfers with disabilities. Another site in Toledo,
Ohio, is scheduled to open soon, and the program hopes to have
eight sites open by 2005.
Project GAIN has helped introduce the game to nearly 200
individuals with disabilities, many of whom were skeptical at
first. The program is not restricted to those with prior golf
experience. Many beginners have found the Project GAIN program to
be an excellent way to stay active, make friends and improve
their health, all while learning a game that they can play with
The Project GAIN initial training program instructs golf
professionals, program staff, volunteers and steering committees
who will be involved with the project. From there, all
participants' skill levels are assessed and they receive six
instructional sessions specifically designed for their abilities.
A number of social and inclusion activities are worked into the
Despite his lack of golf experience, Hughes immediately took a
lead role with the Baltimore Project GAIN site, serving on its
committee while also taking part in the program as a mentor and
participant. So how does a gold-medal athlete react to starting
anew in golf?
"There's a desire that's always there to be
competitive," he said. "It's important to not be
afraid to try something new. You just need to adjust, find
yourself, and have fun with it."
It is this positive attitude that has directly resulted in
success for Hughes in all of his endeavors, and one that clearly
affects the thinking of those around him.
"Larry is a tremendous role model for those who are
fortunate enough to get to know him," said Barbie Miller,
the Local Coordinator of the Baltimore Project GAIN site. "I
was lucky enough to see him out on the golf course for the first
time in all of those years, and it was a thrill for all of us to
see the look of accomplishment on his face."
This look of accomplishment is one that is reaching the faces of
more and more individuals with disabilities, thanks in part to
the efforts of the National Alliance for Accessible Golf and the
USGA. The Alliance seeks to ensure opportunities for all persons
with disabilities to fully engage themselves in golf. Beyond the
Alliance's work with Project GAIN, it has also created a Web
site with a wealth of information about golf for individuals with
disabilities located at
With trophy in hand, Larry Hughes
receives the Spirit of the Games Award, the highest such
honor, at the Veterans National Wheelchair Games in San
Antonio in 2000. (Courtesy Larry Hughes)
The USGA has made a significant push to get more individuals with
disabilities involved in the game. In addition to awarding more
than $2 million in grant funds since 1997 to more than 60
organizations operating golf programs for individuals with
disabilities, the Association has earmarked additional time and
resources into the creation of the USGA Resource Center for
Individuals with Disabilities. Information can be found at
This Web site is the clearinghouse of information for golfers
with disabilities, and it contains databases of introductory
programs, instructors, therapists, courses, tournaments and
players. Additionally, the site highlights success stories such
While Hughes' final success story with golf may still lie
ahead, the appeal of the game to him is the same as it is to
"Golf has an ongoing challenge every time you play," he
said. "You can go out there on a Monday and Tuesday and hit
a great shot, and then have that same shot on Wednesday and not
know where your ball went."
But ultimately, he conceded, golf "is no different than
anything else . practice makes perfect."
So what advice would he give to others with disabilities playing
golf for the first time? "Before you say no, apply yourself
and give yourself the opportunity to succeed," he said.
No one would know that better than Hughes.
Brendan Tierney is a second-year Fellow and can be reached at
. This story also appeared in Ability magazine. For more
information about golf for individuals with disabilities, visit
the USGA's Resource Center for Individuals with Disabilities
Web site at
or the National Alliance for Accessible Golf Web site at
While golf is something that many are hesitant to pick up because
of its perceived difficulty, the game can be learned and enjoyed
if given the proper instruction.