For stroke survivor golf provides normalcy and therapy

Dan McDonald | PGA.com
Mark Selman's caregiver helps him keep his balance during a golf swing by ducking behind him and using a gait belt.
By Dan McDonald
PGA.com

Series: PGA Feature

Published: Tuesday, May 02, 2017 | 10:37 a.m.

Roughly 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, with about 665,000 surviving the trauma.

In June 2014, Mark Selman became one of those survivors.

Prior to his stroke, Selman was an avid golfer. At his best, he got his handicap down to a 5 and would play in the low 80s to high 70s. An above average golfer, to say the least.

But the effects of a stroke don’t discriminate based on how good a golfer is.

According to the CDC, a stroke occurs somewhere in the U.S. roughly once every 40 seconds, and about 25 percent of those people have previously suffered a stroke. A stroke can leave its victim with lasting brain damage, long-term disability, and can be deadly.

"The stroke left me totally paralyzed on my left side. My left hand and my left arm would not work. My left leg would not work."

It was about a year after his stroke that Selman decided to pursue his love of golf again.

“I just decided, because I used to be a golfer before this (stroke) ... that I wanted to find a way to get back into golf. So I just googled 'golf after a stroke’ and this adaptive golf program came up in there. I found RiverPines, and I found Dave’s organization. And I just started attending.”

The Dave he is referring to is PGA Professional Dave Windsor. Through his Adaptive Golf Academy and the Georgia State Golf Association’s Adaptive Golf Program, Windsor is at the forefront of the charge to bring adaptive golf to those who have suffered from situations like Mark’s stroke to veterans who have suffered both physical and mental wounds on the battlefield.

“We focus a lot on working back to full swing shots,” Windsor said. “Many of the people who we work with are in recovery from physical or mental injuries and we do our best to help them find a sense of normalcy again in their lives.”

 

 

About a year after his stroke, Selman attended that first session with Windsor and the GSGA’s Adaptive Golf Program. But the swing you see above was still a long way in the making. It was the coaching and support he got through the program that helped him from a wheelchair to hitting full-swing shots again.

“The first time I went to an adaptive golf event, I was in a wheelchair. So I went to the event anyway, and they showed me how I could get in one of those solo rider cars, and I hit a few balls like that. And then I decided I wanted to stand and swing on my own. So, that’s when they showed me how, with a gait belt, my caregiver could stand behind me and hold that and duck down while I swung my clubs. So, we’ve been doing that for about 2 years now.”

Selman said that the two biggest hurdles he faced were mentally grasping the new realities of his golf game on the course and regaining some of the strength that he had from back in his days of being a 5 handicapper.

“I just focused on being satisfied with what I could do instead of worrying about what I couldn’t do because the first few shots I hit were very short. But then, eventually, my strength got more and more.”

Now, almost three years after his stroke, Selman is again enjoying the golf course and the game he fell in love with years ago.

"I’m pleased with how I’ve been able to progress,” Selman said. "I’ve been able to hit drivers over 200 yards, and I never thought I’d be able to do that again. But I’d say, just overall, being able to get out and play a few holes is good enough for me. I’m just thankful I can do this.”

MORE: What is adaptive golf and how does it unlock the game for those with disabilities?

Golf not only provided him with a sense of normalcy and being able to resume a sport that he loved so much prior to the stroke, but it helped him stay active and avoid the dark days that can come during recovery.

"Another thing about (the adaptive golf program) is you’re here with all these people,” Selman said. "And having the friendships I’ve made with Dave and all the players and coaches here, that’s a big thing with someone who has had a stroke. Because sometimes depression can be a big problem.

"If you get isolated, you’re going to go downhill as far as recovery. So you have to be connected with people who are like-minded and going through the similar things that you are."

For those who have survived a stroke — or anyone who has had a medical condition limit some of their mobility — the biggest piece of advice Selman has is to make sure to go through physical therapy.

"I went to therapy for almost 3 years, and I’m still in therapy,” Selman said. “My therapist helped me to move my hand, helped me to move my arm, and regain my ability to walk. And I now walk a lot every day. And just keep exercising and going to therapy, because if you don’t do that you won’t be here (playing golf again).

"Look at golf as a therapy in itself. Because if you think of someone that just had a stroke, they have mental limitations, and they have physical limitations. The golf swing process itself deals with the mental and the coordination and the strength all in one. So it really helps to rehab someone.” 

If you are interested in finding out more information about the GSGA's Adaptive Golf Program, the Adaptive Golf Academy, or learning about how you can start a local adaptive golf program at your course, contact PGA Professional David Windsor at david@adaptivegolfacademy.com.