While much has changed in the world since September 2019, a group of more than 120 disabled veteran golfers returning to the links in Riverside, Iowa, after a two-year hiatus proved to be both a step back toward normalcy and a step forward into the future of a beloved and impactful event—the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic.
The golf clinic is an adaptive sports program presented by DAV and the Department of Veterans Affairs and supported by 240 volunteers.
The clinic was put on hold as the U.S. grappled with the fallout from the pandemic that started in early 2020. This year, however, the presenters determined the event could return with certain safety and mitigation measures in place.
“The veterans and the families are so excited to be back here. They love the challenges the game of golf presents and the camaraderie they build amongst their fellow veterans,” said DAV National Commander Joe Parsetich, who attended the clinic. “When people are challenged with different disabilities, whether physical or psychological, it’s their attitude toward life that keeps them going.
“You see that here. Whether it be on a golf course or into a swimming pool or up a rock-climbing wall, the life that is just in their eyes and on their face is priceless.”
True to its mission, the clinic provided golf pro instruction; state-of-the-art prostheses; specialized golf equipment; and, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity for veterans to cross-pollinate ideas and share inspiration with one another.
But the clinic more than inspired and energized participants. It was also an exhilarating experience for those in and around Riverside in supporting roles, including VA Secretary Denis McDonough.
“The fact that our vets can play golf out here is a reminder that we’re all free because of what they’ve done for us,” McDonough said. “The fact that they can have a taste of that freedom here on the course … is a very inspiring feeling.”
The ‘taste of freedom’ was made possible by the Iowa City VA Health Care System and 17 different corporate, individual and nonprofit donors. Many of the representatives of those organizations and individual donors were among the volunteers, who provided water and refreshments out on the course, served as adaptive guides, dog-sat companion canines while their owners were taking part in the clinic, and more.
Immediate Past National Commander Andy Marshall attended the clinic as the representative of DAV Chapter 4 in Palm Harbor, Florida, which helped sponsor the event. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend, especially since the cancellation of the previous clinic because of the pandemic prevented him from attending as national commander.
“I wasn’t going to miss this event for anything,” Marshall said. “And I’m honored that my chapter raised the money to support the golf clinic. What I’ve seen this week—from the rehabilitative experience for these veterans to the way DAV, the VA, sponsors and volunteers put in the work to make this such a special experience—exceeded my highest expectations.”
Going above and beyond was par for the course for the recipient of the DAV Freedom Award at this year’s clinic.
Disabled Army veteran Michaun Harrison of Fredericksburg, Virginia, was honored with the award, which is presented each year to the participant who proves to the world that an injury or disability does not bar the doors to freedom.
Attending her third golf clinic, Harrison used her infectious and joyful disposition to rally and inspire those around her throughout the week. Having fun while rehabilitating her mind and body was a natural byproduct of the sport.
“Adaptive sports bring out the best in you even on your worst day. And that’s what I think I like about golf: You can’t master it,” said Harrison, who is a member of Chapter 7 in Fredericksburg. “It’s a challenge. And it’s just fun to be out there.”
Harrison, who was medically discharged in 2001 as her vision began to fade, also drew energy and inspiration from her fellow golfers and the volunteers who she felt made the event so special.
“Even if I hit the ball 2 feet or 2,000 feet, [my fellow veterans] were out there clapping for me. And that’s what matters: Even at your worst, your buddies think you’re the best,” she said. “I tip my hat to [the volunteers] because I know they have their challenges. They have their families back at home. They’re sacrificing a lot to be out here for us.”
Such selflessness and a sense of purpose in the face of adversity is what defines the clinic.
“Michaun Harrison is not only exemplary for her spirit and desire to continue to grow, but she is also typical of the sort of men and women you meet out on the course here at Riverside,” said DAV National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst. “Those of us who know and love the event have missed it for the fact that it brings so much into the lives of the participants and all of us who support and cheer them on.”