Memories are the strongest part of Bob Carter’s golf game.
He no longer has the swing of a champion and grips a walking cane instead of a driver. Negotiating the rolling terrain from driving range to practice green is arduous; walking 18 holes is not an option.
His golf membership expired uncontested at Terravita , a master-planned community in north Scottsdale.
A stroke in March 2002 forced the 1995 Terravita President’s Cup champion from Scottsdale to surrender the game. Only on rare occasions since then has he tried to pick up a golf club.
Chad Shimek wants Carter to hold a club again, and to have it propel him to a speedier recovery.
Shimek, a 33-year-old Scottsdale golf professional, has teamed with HealthSouth Scottsdale Rehabilitation Hospital in a program that uses golf as therapy for victims of strokes and other physical limitations. Shimek relies on personal experience — he suffered a stroke 18 years ago — to tailor the rehabilitation for participants.
The program centers on molding and maintaining a positive attitude and began in April. The HealthSouth medical community already is encouraged by the results.
Rehabilitation liaisons Mary O’Sullivan and Liz Ufnal evaluate patients in Valley hospitals to determine eligibility for HealthSouth rehab programs.
"We see the patients at their worst," O’Sullivan said. "Multiple vehicle injuries, strokes, brain injuries, amputees we get them from all over the Valley, from 18 years old to a guy who was 99 years old. Some are not able to get out of bed."
Patients need no previous introduction to the game to participate in golf therapy, but the benefits are obvious.
"Each day we see (those in golf therapy) getting better and better," O’Sullivan said. "Some who were not able to get out of bed start walking with a walker. Others are eventually able to function and even go home. It’s amazing what we see."
FOCUSING ON THE GAME
Standing tall on a crisp, autumn morning at The Golf Club at Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills, Carter delights in the opportunity to relive swing-for-swing portions of the 18-hole match in which he was crowned Terravita champion.
"There’s never been a twotime winner" in the 10 years of the President’s Cup, he said, peering from behind thicklensed sunglasses shaded by a wide-brimmed straw golf hat. Carter was eager to regale the HealthSouth therapists while fellow participant Daryl Kline concentrated on his putting stroke nearby.
Carter, who turned 76 in September, still looks the part, dressed in creased golf slacks, a stylish wind jacket and sporting two-tone FootJoy golf shoes.
Kline, who suffered a stroke April 8, wears golf shorts that reveal a white hard-plastic brace enveloping his left leg from inside his tennis shoe to just below the knee. His rigid left hand is usually close to his midsection.
Carter and Kline, 46, of Mesa, are the only participants who braved the elements to attend the November rehabilitation session at Eagle Mountain, which eagerly donated its driving range and practice green for the program’s use, said Tracy Herbst, director of marketing.
They were fitted with special gloves attached by long straps fastened with Velcro to help their affected hands hang on to a putter — Carter’s right side was affected by his stroke, Kline his left. Carter’s challenge was to get his right hand around the grip. Kline was working his left hand into any semblance of a grip.
Several minutes after stretching exercises and instruction from therapists and Shimek, trepidation was soon replaced by concentration and, eventually, determination.
The familiarity of golf was returning to the first-time participants and it wasn’t long before they two engaged in a healthy putting competition.
"Six months ago, Bob couldn’t hold a club with his right hand," said Tom Scheub, an occupational therapist at HealthSouth. "Now he’s upset if he doesn’t drain one.
"And Daryl’s not even thinking about his hand. Daryl’s hand, it was so rigid when he started, now it’s soft and just look at his grip."
It’s a matter of taking the focus off the disability and turning it to something the patient enjoys, Scheub said.
AN EXPERIENCED TEACHER
Shimek was primarily a youth hockey and baseball player in Duluth, Minn. Golf was a way for him to "get my mind off other things," he said.
That changed drastically in August 1985 — "28 days before my 15th birthday" he said.
He was at a bowling alley keeping score for his cousin, his elbows on the score table, his face in his hands, when it felt like "somebody came up and knocked my elbow out of the way." His head fell to the table.
"My whole left structure collapsed," he said.
Shimek had suffered a stroke.
He knows firsthand how hard the road to recovery can be. "It was six months to a year before I had use of my left side," he said.
There was no adolescent therapy at that time, he said, and traditional rehabilitation was boring and at times humiliating, he said. "I was treated as an adult," he said. "We had to put together a puzzle for 3-year-olds, four large pieces, and I couldn’t it together."
Shimek said he relied on his own will to go to a golf course, practice and get back into some sort of physical shape. "I started with a walker on the green, graduated to a cane." But it was something he enjoyed, providing the initiative he needed to continue, he said.
He now plays to a 2 handicap and is one of 20,000 PGA professionals and a committee member of the American Stroke Association. He has spent 12 years as a teaching professional.
Symptoms of the stroke still linger. Shimek cannot tap his left foot rapidly. Same with putting his left index finger and thumb together.
"Every day I get out of bed and put my feet on the ground I still ask myself how I’m going to walk today," he said. "Do I feel a little sleepy today? Do I feel I have sensation in my feet? Sometimes I don’t have any sensation."
He said he wasn’t happy simply teaching aspiring golfers. He wanted to find a higher purpose in life, something where he could apply his experiences, good and bad. He contacted HealthSouth and convinced officials of his idea for a therapeutic program now known as "Up-N-Swingin’ ."
"Therapists are always helping physically, but no one attacks the emotions," Shimek said.
He points to the definition of golf given him by a golf instructor he knew in Long Island, N.Y.: "Golf is a test of our senses that challenges our self-control, physically emotionally and mentally."
"We are using golf as a vehicle to overcome adversity, emotionally and physically. We are going to make this a golf support group for people with physical challenges," he said.
A WINNING GAME
The patients feed off each other in a group setting, intensifying the rehabilitation process, Shimek said. The groups meet monthly at Eagle Mountain and have had as many as 12 to 15 participants.
"He’s passionate about it," said Dr. Carolyn Kinney, medical director for HealthSouth Scottsdale Rehabilitation Hospital. "What makes it so effective is that he’s been there and done that."
The program is well-suited for the Scottsdale area, she said, because of the immense popularity of the game, and because of the concentration on repeated activity required by golf. "Repetition translates into coordination in a lot of different ways, that something like golf , which is very repetitive will help regain that coordination," she said.
It’s extremely motivating for patients to have an activity they already enjoy to direct their efforts in therapy, she said, and golf helps them through their entire rehabilitation.
Shimek won’t treat the participants as patients, he treats them as golfers. "That way, they forget about their limitations," he said. "It’s mind over matter."
Carter and Kline spent nearly two hours working on their game and were visibly taxed. But they had newfound enthusiasm.
"Golf: That’s what I’ve missed the most since I had my stroke," Kline said, vowing to play the game again as well as he did before.
Winning is what Carter said was the best part of golf. "Maybe I can win the President’s Cup again," he said before declining an invitation for lunch with Shimek.
He didn’t have time. He wanted to get to Terravita, jump into the golf cart he refused to give up and head to the clubhouse. "I want to practice!"
For more information on Up-N-Swingin’, visit www.golftherapy.com, HealthSouth Scottsdale Rehabilitation Hospital at (480) 551-5400.