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No Handicap : Amputees enjoy the liberating and rehabilitative quality of golf.

August 22, 1991|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you ask 70-year-old amputee golfer Chase Gregory about his handicap, he'll gladly tell you. And if you ask about his missing leg, he'll discuss that too.

Four and a half years ago, the resident of Camarillo's Leisure Village lost his right leg below the knee due to poor circulation and resulting gangrene.

But it has not stopped him from enjoying a good game of golf. Gregory is one of a growing number of amputees of all ages who have discovered the liberating and rehabilitative quality of the sport.

"I've played golf since I was 8 years old," said Gregory, who is retired from the insurance industry. "And I made up my mind that as soon as I got a prosthesis, I was going to play again."

Indeed, in June, he placed third in his division in the National Amputee Golf Assn.'s 23rd annual Western Amputee Regional Golf Championship tournament, which he helped to organize at the Los Robles Golf Course in Thousand Oaks. Last week, he played in the Ventura County food bank's annual Drive for Food golf tournament at Camarillo Springs Golf Course. And he plans to participate in the annual Senior Olympics beginning next month.

"Golf is the most adaptable sport for amputees," said Ada Myers, vice president of the Western Amputee Golf Assn. According to Myers, there are an estimated 5 million people in the country who have lost a limb as the result of disease, trauma or birth defect.

Myers, a 46-year-old Thousand Oaks resident, lost her leg in a boating accident when she was 22. But afterward, she remained active--learning to fly, ride a horse and snow ski.

In 1984, Myers founded a support group in Thousand Oaks called Amputees Caring Together of Ventura County, and she helped organize amputee golf tournaments. But Myers only started playing golf herself three years ago.

"I was hooked," she said. Myers, the 1989 and 1990 women's national amputee golf champion, is in Indianapolis to defend her title for the third year. She also won the 1990 Women's International British Amputee Open Championship.

Myers' success has motivated other amputees to get involved. "But out of 3,500 members in NAGA, only about 35 women are competing on the circuit," she said.

One of them is Ruth Doenges, 72, from Ventura. Doenges, who is a widow, lost both legs below the knee as the result of diabetes and complications from a fall. Like Gregory, she was an avid golfer before her surgery. "We were a golfing family," she said of her husband and four children.

"My worry after the surgery was I'd be restricted and couldn't go out or play golf. My son said, 'Nonsense.' The first thing we did was get hand controls for the car and now I drive myself and other friends around."

In 1990, Doenges' son, Bruce, took her to the driving range and helped her get back into the game.

"I had heard of Ada," Doenges said, "and I introduced myself to her on the course one day." Since then, Doenges and Gregory have worked with Myers and others to organize the recent WAGA tournament in Thousand Oaks, where Doenges won the Western Amputee Senior Women's Championship.

"I'm real excited about going to Indianapolis," Doenges said. "I have been invited to participate in the National Amputee Golf Championships, and I'm anxious to give it a try. Maybe it will prove to some senior citizens that they don't have to sit home in a rocking chair."

She said that people must first build up strength and that they must practice. And if they played before, they have to develop a whole new game of golf because amputees only have one stance and limited arm motion. But, she added, "if any amputee has a will to play golf, they certainly can do it."

The deadline to enter the seventh annual Gold Coast Regional Senior Olympics is Sept. 3. So if you will be at least 55 by Sept. 17, zip up your track suit and grease your gears.

The 15 events will be sponsored by recreation departments throughout Ventura County between Sept. 17 and Oct. 8.

Highlights of the opening ceremony include a color guard, the Camarillo Senior Band and a fencing demonstration. Honorary chairwoman for the event is Colleen House of the Area Agency on Aging. Olympic medals will be presented at the closing ceremony.

The registration fee of $10 covers the cost of a T-shirt and medals. Additional fees vary with each sport. Applications can by obtained at your local senior center or by calling the Ventura Senior Recreation Center, 648-2829.

* FYI

The National Amputee Golf Assn. is starting the third year of its popular First Swing program, which offers Swing Seminars for rehabilitational professionals and Learn to Golf Clinics for any physically challenged individual. For details, call 1-(800)-633-6242.

Amputee Golfer Magazine, the annual publication of NAGA, contains informative articles and tournament schedules worldwide. Annual subscription is $5. Write P.O. Box 1228, Amherst, N. H. 03031, or call 1-(800)-633-6242. For information on the Western Amputee Golf Assn. or local events, call 499-2798.

SENIOR OLYMPICS

Sept. 17

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