Dr. Lucian Newman
Dr. Lucian Newman III is a surgeon in Atlanta, Ga.
Eight years ago, he lost his left arm in a hunting accident.
“I was in a tree stand, deer hunting, when the rifle accidentally discharged. It was point blank at my left arm,” he said. “My brother pulled me down from the stand, and the rest is history.”
A rather remarkable history.
The doctor in Newman knew instantly that the arm was gone, but that certainly didn’t mean life was over.
Ten days after the accident he was back at work.
He wears a prosthetic and is busier than ever, performing as many as 10 laparoscopic surgeries a day -- hernias, gallbladders, colon cancers...
“It creates challenges,” Newman said of losing his arm. “But most surgeons operate with a team. Surgery is a mental discipline.”
“It is the ultimate competition -- a challenge with yourself, taking concentration and good mental skills,” Newman said.
He grew up playing all sports. He started golfing at age 6.
“I won some state tournaments when I was a two-handed golfer, so I had golfing skills before the accident,” he said.
But after the accident, his game improved.
“Golf is actually a big muscle sport,” he said. “To create a good golf swing you don’t need hands. … I’m as good as I would be if I had two arms.”
“It is not a disability,” he said of the lost arm. “A disability means you can’t do something. It is a challenge. You have to do things a little different. … I have always said to my patients your disability is between your ears. If you tell yourself you can’t do something, you won’t. If you tell yourself you can do something, there is a good chance you can.
“Plenty of people have had bad things happen to them and go on to do amazing things,” Newman said.
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Chad Pfeifer, 32, played virtually all sports before losing his leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.
All sports except golf.
“To me and my baseball buddies, golf was considered an old man’s sport. Something to do when we retire,” reminisced Pfeifer in a telephone interview from his home in Goodyear, Ariz.
The bomb took off his left leg, just above the knee. He spent 13 months at Fort Sam Houston doing therapy.
“Once you’re in there and see the other disabled soldiers and some of the injuries they have overcome … I realized I was very very fortunate that I only lost one leg,” Pfeifer said.
He still was in the hospital when his brother-in-law took him to the golf course for the first time. Pfeifer didn’t play that day.
And when a fellow soldier and double amputee visited, he offered words of wisdom: Once Pfeifer was fitted with a prosthetic leg, he could do anything.
He remembers his first visit to the driving range.
“Once I hit a couple of shots, I hit one on the sweet spot. I got the bug and was hooked,” Pfeifer said. “The more I practiced and played, the better I got at it.”
When he heard some guys talking about the National Amputee Golf Association tournament, he checked it out.
“Golf is a sport that I could compete with others at. I can compete with normies,” he said. “It was great sport for me to get that competitive edge back.”
It also was great therapy -- mentally and physically.
Today, he works at Golf Club Estrella in Arizona. He plays with normies and pros. If he’s wearing trousers, most people don’t know he has a disability, aside from a little limp.
“Then I lift up my pant leg and they are, like, ‘whoa, I would have never known.’ If you do that on a golf course and you are beating them, they are pretty impressed that a guy with a prosthetic can be a good golfer.”
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The 53-year-old Australian lives on a golf course and travels the world teeing off at exotic places in South Africa, California and now Lincoln, Neb.
Woody Walker was 23 when he lost his leg.
“I was hit by a car while riding a motorcycle home from work,” Walker said in a telephone interview from Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he was vacationing with his wife prior to heading to Nebraska.
He kept his badly mangled leg for three years, hoping it would heal. When it didn’t, doctors gave him the option of amputation.
“It took me two seconds to make up my mind,” Walker recalled. “I was sick of it. It was a relief to get rid of it actually.”
The absence of a limb slow never slowed him down. He raced yachts for 13 years, until his wife asked him to stop.
“I needed something to do. I didn’t want to be home with my wife seven days a week,” he quipped. His son was a big fan of Greg Norman, and so Walker took up golf.
“I started playing amputee golf nine years ago in Australia,” he said.
He first played in the United States in 2009, and has been here for every NAGA tournament since.
“I come for the fun. There’s a lot of camaraderie,” Walker said.
And he encourages folks to come out and look for him on the course.
“I’m the guy with one leg. … Oh, I guess there may be a lot of us,” he joked.
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Forty-three years ago, Mike Reeder lost both legs in Vietnam.
Before the war, he was not a golfer. But 25 years ago, Reeder went into a golf shop to buy golf balls -- a birthday present for a friend.
“The guy (in the shop) asked if I had ever tried swinging a club. That’s like asking me if I had ever tried pole-vaulting or parasailing,” Reeder said.
But, at the urging of the salesman, Reeder took a practice swing in front of a target.
“As the golf gods would have it, I hit the ball dead solid. A perfect hit in the middle of the target. I said, ‘Aww hell, now I gotta play this game.’
“It was love at first sight,” Reeder said.
“I practiced forever before I went to the course,” he recalled. His golfing mentor had him tee the play from everywhere … the fairway, the rough.
“I did that for almost one year. I was breaking 90. So I played real golf and discovered I could do that, too,” he said.
Word got out about the double amputee -- the golfer without prosthetic legs. He made headlines in Nashville, then in San Diego, Calif., and in 2010 when he became the first wheelchair golfer ever to play the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.
“I shot 79 in awful weather,” Reeder said.
A couple of weeks earlier PGA champion Rory McIlroy shot 80 on the same course in bad weather.
“My caddy assured me that the weather I played in was worse than what McIlroy played in,” Reeder said. “I done good.”
He’s written two books, an autobiography 18 chapters of his life over 18 holes of golf; and a book about his experience in Scotland.
“The American dream happens to amputees, too,” he said.
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South Bend, Ind.
Kim Moore was born without a foot and shin on her right leg, a severe clubfoot on her left leg and a mild case of spina bifida.
Some may call her handicapped, but the 32-year-old PGA golfer and head women’s golf coach at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind., has never thought of it that way.
“I come from a big sports family. I grew up playing all sorts of different sports,” she said in a telephone interview,
“Growing up, I was also told that I can do what I want to do. My family never treated me any different. … Having grown up in that atmosphere, I make choices that I am going to at least try and do things. I may not be the greatest, but it is important for me to at least give it shot.”
She started golfing her freshman year in high school, giving up her first love, basketball.
“I can run. I’m just not the fastest on the team,” she said of her decision to quit basketball.
“I wanted to play something I was more competitive in,” she said.
Her dad and friends encouraged her to play golf. It was good advice; her senior year of high school she received a full ride scholarship to play golf at the University of Indianapolis.
For the past 10 years, Moore has finished as women’s champion at NAGA nationals. She’s hoping to bring home her 11th title. But winning is not her biggest priority. NAGA championships are like being at a big family reunion, she said.
“It’s definitely more laid-back than the PGA. It’s competitive. It’s fun. It’s not pressurized. ... There are not millions of dollars on the line. We play more for pride and camaraderie,” Moore said.
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The Woodlands, Texas
Thirty years ago, a 25-year-old Marty Ebel was building a lakefront retaining wall when the front-end loader he was operating tipped.
Ebel was thrown into the water. He looked up in time to see the giant piece of machinery coming down on top of him.
“I realized it was going to kill me. I accepted that I was going to die,” he recalled.
He lost both legs just below the hip.
“I was a very bad golfer before I had my accident,” Ebel said.
A couple of months after the accident, a friend took him to the driving range.
“He said I should not give up on the stuff I had always done,” Ebel recalled.
That first experience was frustrating. He struggled to raise the wheelchair solid enough to hit with authority.
“But I also recognized I could do it,” Ebel said.
Over the next year he experimented on wheelchair modifications. Later he bought an electric scooter, adjusted the seat high enough that he was closer to a standing position and hit the ball. He continued to research and experiment, and eventually came across a company that made golf carts for people with mobility issues.
“It really changed how I golfed,” he said. “I had never broken 100 before the accident, and now I have broken 90. I’m better than if I was able-bodied.”
Ten years ago NAGA invited him to demonstrate wheelchair golf at its First Swing Clinic, which teaches golf to rehabilitation therapists. It was NAGA’s work with people who have disabilities that got him involved in the organization and later the competition.
“Before my accident I was not necessarily an upbeat, glass-half-full guy,” he said.
“When I didn’t die, it was the most amazing thing. ... I was given a tremendous gift.
It is a gift I keep in the front of my mind every day. ... I am living a bonus round right now.”