This week I took another step forward in accepting cerebral palsy. I played in a golf tournament helping kids and adults with CP. My hope was to interact with people who have cerebral palsy and I saw a few as part of the welcoming committee while I checked in for the golf tournament. However, my interactions with them were quite limited. The day turned out to be much more about raising money for the non-profit that helps adults and children with CP and others who have experienced brain trauma. I did have the opportunity to interact with some staff members from Provail and it gave me a positive feeling about the kindness surrounding the organization. The real challenge in playing this week turned out to be the uneasiness of an entirely new environment. It was my first time playing in any kind of charity golf tournament. There were over 100 golfers I didn’t know and with the shyness in my personality I’ve never been one to just walk up and begin a conversation. It became easier once the tournament began and I found myself interacting with my three playing partners.
The limited time I was around people with cerebral palsy felt positive. I remember in my younger years I would have trouble even looking at someone in a wheel chair. This experience was quite different. There were a couple people in chairs around the check-in station and seeing them didn’t cause discomfort. I felt the complete opposite in terms of reaction. I would have liked to interact with them whatever that may have looked like. As I sat in the golf cart waiting to get started a gentleman rode by in a wheel chair, someone who may have also had cerebral palsy accompanied him. In the past I would have turned away avoiding any interaction. Sitting in the golf cart it would have been easy to do so by simply looking the other way. Instead I took the opportunity to say hello and the response I got was encouraging. The gentleman walking along with the man in the wheel chair warmly returned my hello, said he was doing well, and thanked me for coming out to play. The thank you seemed to freeze me, and I simply thanked him in return. The feelings truly going through my head, which I failed to articulate, were how much of a pleasure and blessing it felt like to be there.
It turned out I showed up at the golf course two and a half hours before the tournament began. It gave me plenty of time to get comfortable, warmed up, and ready to play. People started filling in as I spent much of my time on the practice putting green. At points I could feel eyes on me watching my nervous putting stroke. I remember looking up at one point to see a man giving me an uncomfortable look. It’s tough to determine whether the look was full of judgment, frustration because I didn’t belong, or curiosity, but with the vulnerability of not knowing anyone it sure didn’t feel comfortable. While on the putting green I looked at the driving range frequently with idle curiosity, I wondered how good the others playing in the tournament were and how comfortable or uncomfortable in might be for me to hit golf balls. I contemplated taking some swings before the round, but with so many people in the area I felt unsure.
When I finally found the courage and walked down to the driving range it occurred to me how unsteady I felt. The nervous energy coming into the day cost me sleep the night before and I had no appetite for breakfast. These two factors exacerbated the affect cerebral palsy was having on my body. I felt eyes on me possibly wondering if I could hit a golf ball, which would probably be a natural thought. It always feels good when I can step up onto the range and hit solid shots, even when just getting warmed up. I wonder if there were people, wondering if I could do it at all, then kinda smirked to themselves and thought, “well I’ll be damned, look at that.” It’s great to think about the possibility of opening the eyes of someone who might have thought I was less capable. My hope is next time they see someone with physical trouble they might root for their success instead of being surprised by it.
The rest of the day was all about fun. Once I met up with the guys in my group I was surprised by their friendly nature. I immediately struck up a conversation with the guy in my cart, which carried on most the afternoon. My body quivered with nervous energy over each shot on the first hole. As we moved on I was more comfortable hitting full golf shots, but my nerves didn’t relent on the greens. Every time I set up to strike a putt my hands shook and my arms tightened. With everyone in the group watching me attempt the small movement I felt vulnerable. I wanted so much to do well in the team format, but with people looking on whom I didn’t know it became impossible to fully relax. One of my putts went in on the final hole to compete our round. I’m thankful for the kindness of the guys I played with. They made an uneasy experience as much fun as it could have been. I found myself laughing a lot throughout the day and I made a few comments that got them throwing back their heads in laughter. I overheard my golf cart companion tell his buddy from another group “it couldn’t have been a better day.” It made me feel like I contributed something positive with guys I didn’t know the day before.
The acceptance of cerebral palsy as part of my life continues to be a process. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play in the golf tournament this week and help contribute to people whom, like me face the daily challenges of cerebral palsy. It was exciting to be in their presence for a short period of time and I’m looking forward to getting involved in the organization and spending more time around them. I set aside my fear of acceptance and met the challenge of playing in a golf tournament with people I didn’t know. It turned into a fun day and God willing I’ll be doing the same thing a year from now!!