‘We can do more than we think’: Golf competition allows disabled veterans to take a swing at life

Street Stories

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Whether they were standing on their own, sitting in a wheelchair or using a ParaGolfer, dozens of veterans showed up at Button Hole Golf Course on Monday ready to tee off.

They were taking part in the 2021 New England Summer Sports Clinic, which gives disabled veterans an opportunity to compete in a variety of adaptive sports, including golfing, sailing, kayaking and surfing.

The veterans’ conditions ranged from mild PTSD to complete paralysis, but they all have one thing in common: they didn’t let their disabilities get in the way of a good game of golf.

Donna Rusillo, chief of voluntary service at the Providence VA Medical Center, tells 12 News the clinic gives veterans an opportunity to transform a disability into an ability.

“A lot of these veterans lost the ability to do things they love to do,” she explained. “Sometimes it takes a little coaxing, but if they come to the clinic, they realize they can do it now. They just have to change the way they do it a little bit.”

Tina Lavalle, a 12-year Army veteran, suffered a severe head injury while serving in the Gulf War. It’s a day that still haunts her years later.

“My service dog will wake me up from nightmares,” Lavalle said. “He knows when I start to have the night terrors.”

Lavalle said golfing at Button Hole has helped her in ways she never could’ve imagined.

“People don’t realize that sports for us are huge,” she added. “We don’t only gain the confidence that we can do the sports, that [confidence] rolls over into our everyday life. We can do more than we think.”

Ed Dusick, who also participates in the clinic, was injured in a training accident while serving in the Army.

“I went off a cliff in a five-ton Army truck and broke my back in 1972,” he recalled. “I’ve been in a wheelchair ever since.”

Prior to the accident, Dusick always dreamed of making a living playing golf. But his new mission in life has become much more important.

“These are life-changing events,” Dusick said. “This is not just a sporting event that lets us see how far we can hit golf balls or how hard we can swing. It’s about meeting other veterans and talking about issues.”

“I’ve been down the road where a lot of these kids are going to be traveling, so if I can smooth out that road then I’ve done my job,” he continued. “We turn into family.”

Dusick said with all five branches competing, there’s always an inter-service rivalry. When asked which branch of the military can hit the ball farther, he quickly replied, “the Army.”

While the summer clinic is only taking place this week, Button Hole offers disabled veterans the opportunity to golf regularly, along with people of all abilities.

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