By Jack Silverstein
It doesn't matter that my handicap is 29. It doesn't matter that my balance is so poor that I can't hit the ball straight. It doesn't matter that I can't walk the course and have to use an electric cart. It doesn't matter that I'll never win any golf tournaments. What does matter is that I'm alive and golf is keeping me alive.
I became an insulin-dependent diabetic while a teenager. At the time, I was extremely athletic. Growing up in Upstate New York, I was an avid ice skater and skier in the winters and played tennis and water-skied in the summers. Tennis was my best sport, and I won numerous local tennis tournaments. For some reason, golf was not on my radar. I thought that was a game I would play when I was too old to play tennis or ski.
I continued playing tennis throughout much of my adult life until the complications of long-standing diabetes began to set in. First my eye sight began to deteriorate due to diabetic retinopathy. Then I developed a condition called Charcot's feet. The treatment at that time was amputation, but I was fortunate enough to find a doctor who believed he could save my feet. Although it took five years of being non-weight-bearing, I still have my feet (minus one toe). But I was told I could never play tennis again.
In the meantime, the diabetes was taking a toll on my body, and I eventually lost my kidney function and had to go on dialysis. Because of a condition known as orthostatic hypotension, I was unable to stand without fainting. So there I was, legally blind, confined to a wheelchair and on dialysis.
In 2002, I received the beautiful gift of life through a kidney/pancreas/bone marrow transplant. Six months later, my eyesight started to return, but I was still unable to walk. I was told I probably would never walk again. But after 18 months of daily physical therapy, I was able to walk again with the aid of a 4-wheeled walker.
My physical therapists suggested that I take up golf to keep up my stamina and try to improve my balance. I had played golf in the past but I always thought of it as an "older person's sport." Now I was that "older person" and someone with a new lease on life. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I started out slowly by going to the driving range. Frankly, I was embarrassed at how poorly I hit the balls and didn't think any of my friends would play with me. Boy, was I mistaken. Golfers are the best sportsmen and sportswomen. I finally had a reason to get up in the morning and be among people. Four years ago, I joined an "over-60" golf league and play several times a week from spring through fall (and into the winter, if the weather allows). Golf gave me back my confidence. It helped me regain my strength and endurance. It helped me mentally, socially and spiritually. And I've made so many wonderful friends who don't care about my handicap, golf or otherwise.