Practice Makes Perfect
When Byron Jahn first came to MIGA nine years ago, he could barely make contact with the ball. “I couldn’t hit the back side of the barn,” said Jahn, who was born with cerebral palsy.
Now he often makes his dad, Randy, jealous when the two play. Jahn, who also underwent major heart surgery to replace a valve and a small portion of his aorta in 2014, is one of the program’s many success stories, having transitioned from participant to mentor.
Jahn’s mom, Carolyn, said he has become a spokesman for both the Shriners and Doernbecher hospitals. He also works part-time for a physical therapist.
“There isn’t anything that he doesn’t think he can do,” said Carolyn.
Casey McCoy, one of the instructors brought in for MIGA’s November clinic, helped Annie Wallington bring the club back to give her the feeling of the proper swing plane. Being blind, Wallington processed the information and was able to make contact on her next swing.
McCoy took video of Jahn and promised to email it to him and his parents.
Before assisting Jahn, McCoy strengthened Chosvig’s grip by turning his right hand to the left and worked on shortening his backswing, which was far past parallel. Chosvig, who played two seasons on his high school golf team, quickly picked up the tip, especially when McCoy showed him side-by-side images of him against 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy. Chosvig’s shots straightened.
“It’s amazing seeing the smiles and seeing them enjoy this,” said McCoy, a former college and mini-tour golfer who now works out of two area facilities.
Chosvig’s spina bifida – a birth defect that hinders spinal-cord development – often goes unnoticed until you see a slight limp or the many scars on his body from the surgeries. But he won’t let his disability prevent him from enjoying the game.
“I’ve learned a lot here,” said Chosvig, who can walk 18 holes using a push cart. “Don’t give up. Don’t be lazy.”
Chosvig, like many others, discovered MIGA through the Shriners Hospital, having spotted golf on a list of activities. Last month, along with 21 others from around the country, he was chosen to represent Shriners Hospital at the PGA Tour stop in Las Vegas that bears its name. Chosvig carried a standard for two days, walking with 2011 USA Walker Cup competitor Harris English and 2016 NCAA champion Aaron Wise, among others.
“He fell in love with the game,” said Lauri Chosvig, Wade’s mother. “Mike [Adams] has given him this love for the sport that I would never have thought. I don’t play golf. Who would think that a kid who has trouble walking can do that? The coolest thing is it can show parents like me that they can do anything.”
Lorien Welchoff, a high school junior, also found MIGA through Shriners Hospital. Her parents, Erik and Zhanna, had bought her a plastic golf set when she was 5 to help with her balance. At the time, she could move a little more easily on her feet. Five years later, after surgery, Lorien was confined to a wheelchair, but not limited from athletic activity. She took up fencing, hand-cycling and golf.
When Welchoff won a turkey as part of the post-clinic festivities, her friend Chosvig was one of the first to congratulate her. She held the bird over her head as if it were a trophy.
Throughout the day, Welchoff’s smile and enthusiasm never wavered.
Adams and others provide hope. MIGA provides both an athletic and social component to their lives. Someday, Welchoff would like to be a graphic designer … and a recreational golfer.
“It gets these kids out,” said Zhanna Welchoff. “They are not home playing video games. One of the problems with being in a wheelchair at that age is you can get locked into doing homework. This program gives her a chance to be in the public eye and meet new people and new lifestyles. She has a healthy lifestyle.”
The golf coach at Aloha High was stunned when Randi Jo Erickson tried out for the golf team. Maybe he forgot that Jim Abbott once pitched in the big leagues with one hand.
“It’s fun to see people’s jaws drop when I do it,” said Erickson of hitting a golf ball.
Erickson came to MIGA seven years ago, and her game has progressed enough that she made her high school team.
Watching Erickson hit with her left arm is remarkable. The ball might not travel very far, but it flies straight with a slight left-to-right action.
“My golf coach tried to underestimate me,” said Erickson between shots on the range. “He realized when he gave me the [varsity] letter that it was a better idea.”
One of the last players to leave the range is Jeanine Cleary, a 20-year-old with Down syndrome. This is Cleary’s second trip to the course. After enjoying pizza and cupcakes, she wanted to hit more balls. Her tempo is perfect. Virtually every drive travels between 30 and 50 yards. She is focused. In the distance is a rainbow.
For Cleary the day could not have ended better. Her proud father quietly watches from behind.
“I love it,” she said after her final drive.
Adams said coaching and mentoring those with Down syndrome is one of his biggest challenges. He preaches patience because oftentimes people with Down syndrome forget things easily. But Adams is never discouraged. Seeing Cleary reinforces that notion.
Inside the clubhouse, parents and participants mingle. Some of the kids show off the turkeys they won in the raffle. Many won’t see each other again until the Christmas party in a few weeks. Adams can’t hold back his enthusiasm.
“Why are the social events important?” said Adams. “Based on my experience, these kids are basically isolated when it comes to being included with the general public. There are no birthday invitations. There are no after-soccer-game get-togethers.
“Inclusion is a big part of our program and that is something the NAAG promotes. We help to build friendships with these kids.”
That’s not all the program is building.
“[MIGA] sees each child as an athlete and a golfer,” said Teryl Figgins, the mother of 14-year-old participant Bryten, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that affects bone strength. “They see the ability, not the disability. In a world of medical challenges, having a place that sees the kids and the ability above all else is a true gift to us as parents.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.