Golf tournament a moment of achievement for Rancho golfers

WHITTIER - Monday's Rancho Golf Classic, held at the Friendly Hills Country Club, was more than just a golf tournament. It was a "tourney of hope" for a group of patients and staff with paralysis who were able to stand and hit golf balls on a golf course for the first time. This achievement was made possible by the recent gift of five paragolf carts to world renowned Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center from Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe.

"It's really inspiring to see someone who is paralyzed from the chest down elevating in these special carts to hit a golf ball," said Rancho Chief Executive Officer Jorge Orozco. "As the speed of technological change continues to accelerate, Rancho is at the forefront of technological advances that will help improve the lives of our patients."

Rancho Patient Advocate and former Rancho patient Gilbert Salinas, who has been using his wheelchair for more than two decades, spoke for the group of Rancho paragolfers. "These technological marvels are giving us a look at what will be possible in the future," Gilbert said. "After many years of being confined to our wheelchairs, we now can envision a future where we can not only stand again, but even walk."

The latter will become possible in September, when Rancho begins a comprehensive clinical trial of its new ReWalk Exoskeleton Robot that will allow many patients whose legs are paralyzed to get up on their feet and walk again.

Gilbert was very thankful for the paragolf carts. "These carts will be assisting us to stand not just on golf courses, but for many other activities of daily living," Gilbert said. "We are very thankful that the Supervisor cares enough about us to give us a gift that will change so many Rancho patients' lives.

Rancho Los Amigos Foundation President Connie Martinez put the paragolfer experience into perspective. "We were inspired by the paragolfers, whose pure joy at being able to stand and play golf made us all realize not only how lucky we are, but how great Rancho is to continue its mission to find every bit of ability within the disabilities of its patients," said Rancho Los Amigos Foundation President Connie Martinez.

Supervisor Knabe, who was the honorary chair of the tournament, said, "It gives me great joy to see these courageous patients stand and play golf. But someone doesn't have to hit a golf ball to see the impact these advanced technology carts are already making ," he said.

"I'll never forget the moment when Cassandra Tang, who is one of Rancho's great patient artists, elevated for the first time and said to me 'Supervisor, you always give me a hug when I'm in my wheelchair at the Art of Rancho show. Now I want to hug you standing up for the very first time.' Looking into her eyes and seeing the complete joy she was experiencing made me tear up, too. It's a moment I'll never forget."

Even though the temperature reached nearly 95 degrees for the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation's annual tournament there were many other cool things happening out on the course.

For example, Rancho super-volunteer Tom Hale and his wife Marjorie ran the putting contest again this year, as Tom prepared to celebrate his 90th birthday later this month. As the golfers finished and dinner began, Tom was called to the stage and everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to this exemplary volunteer leader who has spent more years volunteering at Rancho than he spent in his career in the aerospace industry.

The tournament had net revenues of more than $60,000, thanks to a wide base of support from sponsors. For example, the Annenberg Foundation joined Supervisor Knabe as a Platinum Sponsor of the Golf Classic. Sodexo was a Gold Sponsor and Reimbursement Services Group Sponsored the Sport Bags that were given to each golfer. The Cart Sponsor was A-Med Health Care, and Chevrolet of Montebello was the Hole-in-One Sponsor. Bronze Sponsors of the event were Care Ambulance, Hunt Construction Group, Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital and Bright Health Physicians of PIH and Vanir Construction Management.

Just as the paragolfers inspired the players on the course, Rancho Paralympian Katy Sullivan captivated the golfers at dinner with a stirring a capella rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Katy will be leaving for London and the Paralympic Games on Friday, so this was her last public performance before she fulfills her Paralympic quest in London's Olympic Stadium when the 100 meters is run on September 4 and 5.

She is the American record holder in her category at 100 meters, and the world record holder at 200 meters. As she sang the national anthem, one could just imagine how she might feel only a few days from her Paralympic adventure. After all, she ran her first step just seven years ago on the Rancho campus and now she will be representing her country on the largest stage in the world for athletes with disabilities.

As she sang "the land of the free and the home of the brave," Katy Sullivan was not only singing about America, she was also describing Rancho's paragolfers and herself in one magical phrase that is as relevant today as when Francis Scott Key wrote it nearly 200 years ago.

********** Published: August 16, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 18