USGA – Paralympic Gold Medalist Takes on Game of Golf

Circa 2003

Because of its perceived difficulty, golf is a game that many are hesitant to pick up, but with the right instruction, it can become fun to learn and provide a great challenge at any level of play. For Larry Hughes, a golfer who hasn’t touched a club in more than forty years, relearning the game is a challenge that will inevitably become another success story for him to add to his long list of athletic achievements.

Hughes, now 55 years-old, has accomplished many incredible athletic feats in his lifetime. He is the Ameri can record holder in his classification in the discus javelin and shotput. He was also the gold medalist in the discus at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta.

“It was the most incredible time in my life.” he said of the 1996 Paralympic Games where he threw a discus 41.34 meters, a personal record, to take the gold. “The odds were stacked against me. I had a cracked elbow and still I managed to become a finalist in all [my] events.”

Hughes knows a thing or two about diversity. Although he has paraplegia, as well as Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus, he does not let any of this stand in his way. Liv ing by the motto, “If better is possible, then good isn’t enough,” Hughes spreads his message as a motivational speaker, consultant and coach for other athletes. In addition to this work, Hughes continues to keep his primary focus on training for the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.

As if this is not enough, Hughes recently returned to go after putting away his clubs nearly forty years ago. He became involved again when, serving as a member of the Baltimore County Disability Commission, he heard also a Project GAIN golf site coming to Baltimore. “When er anything athletic comes up at those meetings,” he explained. “everyone points to me.”

Project GAIN, an initiative of the National Alliance for Accessible Golf, facilitates the inclusion of people with disabilities not only into the game of golf, but also into the fabric of the community. Project GAIN is funded by grants from the United States Golf Association (USGA), PGA Tour and PGA of America. Current ly, the four Project GAIN sites are located in Baltimore, Salt Lake City, Sacramento and Chicago. At these sites golfers with disabilities are taught the nuances of the game and teaching professionals are given information about how to teach golfers with disabilities. Another site in Toledo, Ohio is scheduled to open with an anticipated eight Project GAIN sites by 2005.

To date, Project GAIN has helped introduce the game to nearly 200 individuals with disabilities, many of whom were skeptical at first. “When I had my stroke I never thought I would golf again” shared a participant in the Sacramento program, “I gave my clubs to my granddaughter’s husband. Then I heard about this program and I came out here and found that I can do it again.” The program is not restricted to those with prior golf experience. Many beginners have found the Project GAIN program to be an excellent way to learn about a game that helps people stay active, make friends and improve their health.

The Project GAIN training program instructs golf professionals, program staff, volunteers, and steering commit tees who will be involved with the program. From there, the skill level of all participants are assessed and they receive six instructional sessions specifically designed for their abilities. A number of social activities are also woven into the curriculum.

Despite his lack of recent golf experience, Hughes immediately took a lead role with the Baltimore Project GAIN site. He served on its committee while also taking part in the program as a participant and mentor to others. So how does a gold medal athlete react to starting anew in golf? “There’s a desire that’s always there to be competitive,” Hughes said. “It’s important to not be afraid to try something new. You just need to adjust, find yourself, and have fun with it.”

This look of accomplishment is one that is reaching the faces of more and more individuals with dis abilities thanks in part to the efforts of the National Alliance for Accessible Golf and the USGA. The Alliance seeks to ensure opportunities for all per sons with disabilities to fully engage themselves in the game of golf. Beyond the Alliance’s work with Project GAIN, it has also created a website with a wealth of information about golf for individuals with disabilities.

The USGA has made a significant push to get more individuals with disabilities involved in the game. In addition to awarding more than $2 million in grant funds since 1997 to more than 60 organizations operating golf programs for individuals with disabilities, the USGA has put addition al time and resources into the creation of the USGA Resource Center for Individuals with Disabilities. This website is the clearinghouse of information for golfers with disabilities and it contains databases of introductory programs, instructors, therapists, courses, tournaments and players. Additionally, the website highlights the success stories of golfers with disabilities, such as Hughes.

While Hughes’ final success story with golf may still lie ahead, the appeal of the game to him is the same as it is to anyone else. “Golf has an ongoing challenge every time you play,” he said. “You can go out there and have a great shot on Monday and Tuesday, but have that same shot on Wednesday and not know where your ball went.” Ultimately, he concedes, “Golf is no different than anything else… practice makes perfect.”

What advice would Hughes give to others with disabilities playing golf for the first time? “Before you say no. apply yourself and give yourself the opportunity to succeed.”

Take it from him, he knows a few things about succeeding in athletics, and in life.

by Brendan Tierney

For more information, visit USGA Resource Center for Individuals with Disabilities

National Alliance for Accessible Golf

sharing is caring

we did our part - now do yours and share

like a good neighbor, share

Related Articles: