Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Adaptive Clinic Gets Golfers Back In The Game
By Kelly Hill

Forty-four-year-old Dave Slezak was a league golfer who had played the game for more than 20 years. In an 18-month period of 1997-98, however, he suffered three strokes that debilitated much of the left side of his body. His worst stroke came early in the summer of 1998. The last of his three strokes came in December.

In early June though, Slezak and 10 other stroke or accident victims were on the driving range at The Meadows in Allendale, as participants in the second-annual Adaptive Golf Clinic presented by Mary Free Bed Hospital in Grand Rapids. It was the first time that Slezak had been on a golf course since suffering his first stroke.

"Most of my left side was temporarily affected," said Slezak, the sales manager for Lach Diamond, Inc., which manufactures industrial diamond tooling. "Through therapy at Mary Free Bed and out-patient therapy though, they've gotten me back to about 90 percent."

Swinging a golf club was part of that therapy. "I didn't have the stability nor even the strength,' said Slezak, who noted that sometimes his therapists would have to fashion a strap around him to keep him from falling over while he was swinging. "Mary Free Bed is probably the biggest reason that I got back to work and back on my feet again."

Having endured months of grueling physical therapy, Slezak now readily welcomes any frustration that golf can throw at him. "Golf is an outlet to relieve stress," he said, "even though it's a stressful game. I do missing walking around the course, though. I think I miss that more than anything else."

Slezak, who with his wife, Sara, has two daughters, 21-year-old Pam and 19-year-old Laure, boasted a 9-hole average in the low 40s and would occasionally break 40 before suffering his strokes.

"Most of these people had an interest in golf prior to an injury or illness," said clinic director Kelly Merz, a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Therapist who offers her instruction from her own wheelchair.

"This lets them get back into the game. It's fun for them and for us, but we are here to teach them life skills."

"The clinic, which featured four women and seven men, also introduced a wide variety of golf equipment that has been adapted to the needs of these golfers. that equipment includes oversized tees, devices that allow a golfer to tee up a ball or pick up a ball without bending over, Velcro straps that provide a better grip on a club and a one-person golf car with a bag holder on the front and a seat that swivels to allow its rider to play without leaving the car. Clubs also have been adapted, with differently angled heads, for use by the players who must golf from a seated position.

"I had heard of other clinics in the area, so I went to one near Detroit and then I went to a three-day golf symposium in Indiana," Merz said. "I came back from those and formulated the ideas for this clinic. I'm a pretty bad golfer myself right now," she added, "but I haven't been out there much."

"According to Merz, the Adaptive Golf Clinic is only a means to get these avid golfers back on the links. "We are going to look at establishing a league next year," Merz said. "A lot of people have the skill now, so we want to give them a chance to apply those skills on the golf course.

"We want to help people get back out onto the golf course if that's what they want to do," Merz said. "We are trying to help them do whatever it is they enjoy doing."

For more information about the Adaptive Golf Clinic, contact Mary Free Bed Hospital & Rehab Center at 616-242-0300.

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