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Health systems

Boots on the Green helps veterans with disabilities

 

After Bobby Hutchinson lost his left leg in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, he thought he would never play golf again.

“I just kind of had it in my head that chapter in my life was over,” said Hutchinson, who was a heavy equipment operator in the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion when his leg was crushed in an accident in Saudi Arabia.

He heard about Boots on the Green, a partnership between University of Missouri Extension, the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Gateway PGA and H.E.R.O.E.S. Care, a support network for military families.

 

“If I can play golf, you can play golf. They find that out once they get out here. That’s the greatest thing.”
– Gary York

 

“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! I’m going to be able to golf?’” Hutchinson said.

For the past five years, Boots on the Green has helped veterans with disabilities enjoy the therapeutic benefits of golf.

“Golf is a great medium for therapeutic recreation because it uses all the facets. You have your mental, your physical and your social facets in golf,” said Jerry Hitzhusen, an MU Extension associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism. “And there are benefits to just being outdoors on a golf course rather than at the VA hospital, where most of these men reside.”

Hitzhusen, who works with VA recreation therapists, PGA golf professionals and volunteers to organize golf clinics and tournaments for the program, has been involved with therapeutic recreation for more than 40 years. In 1971, he started the Midwest Symposium on Therapeutic Recreation, which has become a model for professional training and continuing education in the field.

Hitzhusen said certain features of golf make it particularly suitable for therapeutic recreation. It’s a challenging sport, but it doesn’t require extended periods of physical exertion. The nature of the game encourages socializing, and the handicapping system lets golfers with different abilities or skill levels play one another competitively.

Photo: Jerry Hitzhusen is standing on a golf course next to Bobby Hutchinson, who is on a single-rider golf cart.

Jerry Hitzhusen, MU Extension associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism, works with veteran and golfer Bobby Hutchinson as part of the Boots on the Green program.

Advances in assistive technology have made golf courses accessible to players with limited mobility. Hutchinson is able to play golf in large part due to special single-rider golf carts, which a growing number of courses make available to disabled golfers. They are designed to allow golfers to drive onto tee boxes and putting greens without damaging the turf. The golfer can raise, lower and pivot the seat to address the ball without dismounting.

Veterans also benefit from personalized attention from golf pros and avid golfers like Hitzhusen, whom Hutchinson credits with improving his swing.

“Boots on the Green has been a godsend,” said Gary York, an Army veteran who returned unscathed from the Vietnam War but as a civilian lost his legs in a railroad accident.

Since getting involved in the program, York has become a mentor and inspiration to other disabled veterans. “I meet guys that say, ‘Oh, I can’t do this. I’m handicapped.’ You can play golf. If I can play golf, you can play golf. They find that out once they get out here. That’s the greatest thing.”

 

MU Nursing Outreach (MUNO) worked with 2,833 nurses and other health care providers through continuing education programs. MUNO serves a predominantly rural audience with 88 percent of the Missouri participants residing outside the metropolitan St. Louis and Kansas City areas. In addition to Missouri nurses, nurses from 22 other states benefited from MUNO’s educational programs.