Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Giving it their best shot

Staff Writer Monday, May 28, 2007
Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE -- The game crept inside Ray McIntyre more than 40 years ago, and although diabetes took his leg, it never removed the game from his heart.
Feeling, and maybe even fearing, the limits of playing without a left leg, McIntyre's clubs were put aside for two years until Friday, when his will to play finally found an outlet. There he was on the driving range at Waterville Country Club, surrounded by friends and fellow amputees, feeling more alive than he has in years.
"The big thing I missed is getting out with the guys and doing guy things," said McIntyre, who lives in Waterville. "You can't sit around; I found that out. There's no percentage in that. These people taught me that."
Maine's first-ever National Amputee Golf Association First Swing Seminar and Learn to Golf Clinic, sponsored by the Waterville Amputee Support Group, drew at least 25 amputees from around the state, many of whom, like McIntyre, were picking up the clubs for the first time in years. For the others it was their first foray into the sport.
"It's getting back to the love of the game you always had if you played before," said Kim Collett, physical therapist and event organizer. "It's a distraction; it's an activity you enjoy; it's getting your life back."
The free clinics are led by golfers from the National Amputee Golf Association. Instructors teach adaptive golf techniques to people with disabilities, and also train therapists, golf pros and others in teaching the techniques.
"That's the best part for me," said Tom Quinn of Warren, member of the Eastern Amputee Golf Association and head instructor. The 15 therapists and professionals who took Quinn's class Friday will pass their new knowledge along so that others can enjoy the sport, Quinn said.
The class teaches the three pillars of golf: balance, grip and swing. These are the same skills all golfers must learn, but Quinn's class gave an overview of equipment and special techniques specifically designed for people with disabilities.
"It's just different ways for these folks," said Quinn, who lost both legs in the Vietnam War. "It's doing the same thing in a different way."
Betty Furman of Oakland was part of the Maine State Women's Golf Association at one time, but had not played in three years after losing her left leg to an illness. She remembered on Friday why she loves the game so much.
"I'm excited," she said. "I've got to get back out there. I can see today I really can hit the ball. I know it's going to take some time to get back and learn to how to use all of my clubs, but it's a challenge."
Furman, like the other golfers at Friday's clinic, said she was particularly inspired by the presence of Abby Spector, the Maine golf legend who three years ago nearly lost her life a few days after surgery to repair a congenital hole in her heart. Spector temporarily lost her vision, memory, and motor skills, and spent several months in rehabilitation.
"Golf is great thing everyone can enjoy," Spector said. "You can see today, everyone can hit the ball. A lot of it is supporting and getting them to try and keeping them balanced."
"Someone as good as her -- man, she was the best there was," McIntyre said of Spector. "She's trying so hard."
Spector's encouragement made it impossible for Jesse Cartee of Fairfield to sit on the sideline. He decided to attend at the last minute to be with his friends from the Waterville Amputee Support Group. A double amputee who lost his legs because of poor circulation, the 10 years of rust wore off quickly when Cartee began driving the ball down the fairway.
"I hit some pretty good shots down there," he said with a smile.
Scott Hebert, prosthetist and orthotist for Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics of Waterville, helps design equipment that empowers amputees to play golf and accomplish other life endeavors. Friday, however, Hebert's primary role was supporting and laughing with his friends.
"I'm just here to help support fellow amputees and give them a chance to experience what a lot of able-bodied people do," Hebert said. "These folks are totally capable of doing this stuff. It's just a matter of getting out there and doing it."
McIntyre was a member at the Waterville Country Club for more than 10 years.
"It feels great to swing," he said. "It's great to see everybody and get out here. Everyone just wants to hit the ball."

Craig Crosby -- 861-9253

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