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Golf therapy helps improve quality of life for veterans, disabled
By Nadia Malik | Daily Herald Staff

Therapist Donna Strum works with Korean War veteran Billy Fisher, left, as James Fowler, a Desert Storm veteran, takes aim at his ball.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Golf pro Kathy Williams helps out Korean War veteran Nolan Jackson with his therapy session as recreational therapist Susanne Brunner looks on.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Recreational therapist Susanne Brunner works with Korean War veteran Nolan Jackson on his golf game.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Korean War veteran Nolan Jackson warms up with a golf iron before getting ready to tee some balls off at the Buffalo Grove Golf Dome.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Desert Storm veteran James Fowler is all smiles after he tees off during a therapy session at the Buffalo Grove golf dome.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/21/2009 12:02 AM

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After several practice swings, Nolan Jackson is on a roll. With the help of a therapist, the Korean War veteran is able to hit a golf ball to the back of the Buffalo Grove golf dome.

Jackson arrived at the dome from the North Chicago VA Medical Center in a wheelchair, but he's able to stand with a club while Susanne Brunner assists with his balance.

All around him, golf professionals and amateurs are swinging away, practicing for warmer days when they can play outdoors. But Jackson and three other veterans are playing the sport as part of a unique therapy program.

The session is just one of the many that recreational therapist Donna Strum and golf professional Kathy Williams coordinate for their nonprofit company Revelation Golf, based in Elk Grove Village.

Besides programs for veterans, Revelation Golf also provides outlets for breast cancer survivors, adults and children with disabilities, and at-risk youth.

Strum and Williams are everywhere: They have a golf program with the Palatine Opportunity Center and with a youth group in Batavia. They use the White Pines Golf Course in Bensenville and Links & Tees in Addison heavily to service the veterans at North Chicago and Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Maywood. And they've been working with teenagers who are going through the drug and alcohol dependency program at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.

"Our goal is to use golf as a therapeutic tool to increase the quality of life," Strum said.

Each person in the program is paired with both a golf specialist and a therapist. The therapists determine what their bodies can handle and the specialists modify the golf techniques - from choosing a lighter club to finding just the right gloves - to make them work for each individual.

The medical problems can range from people with hip replacements to soldiers returning from war who have brain damage. Many of the modifications include finding a way for people to play from wheelchairs.

For the veterans group at the Buffalo Grove golf dome, the day starts out with stretching while holding a golf club. Some begin hitting with shorter clubs so that their balance isn't thrown off.

Consistent work helps them build endurance and range of motion.

"People don't think of it as therapy," Strum said.

Sheila Johnson, who works at the VA, said she notices a definite change in the veterans who take part in the program.

"The muscle motor movement skills seem to be working really well," she said.

James Fowler, a Desert Storm veteran who hadn't had the opportunity to play golf for years, said he is ecstatic to practice in a dome that caters to his left-handed drive.

"This is like a new awakening," he said. "It's a joy; it really is."

Strum said the company has also taken on veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's probably one of the most rewarding things I've done," she said. "We've got returning soldiers with so many things going on. My dad was in Korea, so for me this is a way to give back."

Although many of the programs at Revelation Golf concentrate on physical difficulties, the company also works with other issues.

A program with girls who are living at or below poverty level is designed to teach life skills, such as respect and good stewardship.

The children are taught that they have to be honest when reporting their golf scores because otherwise they won't know how much they've improved over time. Strum said the hope is that this lesson translates into real life.

The same goes for the Northwest Community Hospital drug and alcohol program, which Strum said builds a positive approach to a leisure lifestyle.

"That's something they know they can have a success at, so they can funnel their energies in that direction as opposed to chemicals," she said.

Revelation Golf was incorporated in 2005 and started running programs in 2006. Strum said the first year 240 people were served, but this past year, she and Williams have helped 900.

Strum said the organization works with the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs and several other groups, bringing in grants as a way to keep down costs for participants.

For more information on the group, visit revelationgolf.org.