Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Great Story

The following story appeared today in the New York Times and is worth reading for the message in courage and determination it provides.


June 22, 2008
When Walking the Course Is a Courageous Act
There has been a lot of talk in the last week about courage in golf, much said about guts and resolve, about physical and mental toughness and fortitude.

It has all been about Tiger Woods’s astounding display of determination at the United States Open. He played 91 holes on a torn-up knee and a fractured tibia, defeating Rocco Mediate to win his 14th major championship. Rarely has such a combination of grit and skill coalesced on a golf course.

But on a different level, there is another dogged display of determination on the PGA Tour this year. It involves a 30-year-old man with cerebral palsy who nearly died at birth. He has had more operations on his eyes and legs than Woods has won majors, and his parents were told he would never walk. One day, he decided he would not just walk, he would scale a mountain no one had climbed.

His name is D. J. Gregory, and he is more than halfway to the top. Clutching a cane in his left hand, his upper body swaying from side to side as he labors with a stiff-legged gait, Gregory has walked every hole of every PGA Tour event this year. He is in Cromwell, Conn., this weekend at the Travelers Championship, his 25th tournament. He does not plan to stop walking until Nov. 9, the final day of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, a fitting conclusion.

By then the tally will be 44 tournaments, 3,168 holes, from California to Southport, England, over and around some 880 miles of hills, through heat, cold and chills, many spills and more thrills than any self-described golf nut could imagine.

“A lifelong dream for me,” Gregory said last Sunday at Torrey Pines in San Diego. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sure, there are times when those morning tee times stink, you know, getting up at 5:30 for a 7:20 start. That happens.

“But I love it. So I look at it that way. I don’t look at it saying, ‘Gosh, I have to go out and do this again?’ ”

He said this as he strained to watch Stuart Appleby, the player he was following, putt at the third hole during the Open’s fourth round. Gregory briefly thought he had hit the jackpot with Appleby, who led at the halfway point before a third-round 79 and a closing 75 left him tied for 36th.

The first step on what Gregory calls the Longest Walk in Golf on his blog was taken at the 1990 Greater Greensboro Open, when he was 12. He asked the CBS commentator Ken Venturi for an autograph, and Venturi took him to meet the pros Payne Stewart and Lanny Wadkins, then took him to the 18th tower to meet Jim Nantz.

But it was not until Gregory formally hatched the idea last year that it became a reality. He wanted to use it as a way of raising awareness and money to fight cerebral palsy and to gather material for a book. Nantz helped him sell the concept to the PGA Tour, hand-delivering Gregory’s plan to Commissioner Tim Finchem.

Before each event, Gregory and a tour representative select a player. He follows that player for 72 holes; if that player misses the cut, Gregory is assigned another golfer. He interviews the golfer and blogs about his week.

Don and Jackie Gregory have watched D. J., their second son, overcome every obstacle since he was born 10 weeks premature. In an effort by doctors to open his lungs, Gregory was given too much oxygen, rupturing vessels that control the blood flow to his legs and affecting his eyes.

He went through “countless surgeries to straighten his legs,” Don Gregory said, and “many on his eyes.” Yet there was something about him.

“From the time D. J. is a baby, he wakes up with a smile on his face, goes to bed with a smile on his face,” Don Gregory said. “Going to bed with the full-length cast on both legs, he never complained. When he went through different stages of crutches and walkers and canes, you know, he would get a little frustrated, because it was a different feeling, but he knew it was a progression and he just kept working hard at it.”

Nothing has changed. When he falls, as he has 17 times this season, he laughs at himself and gets up, asking concerned bystanders not to help him. Until he was accepted at Springfield College, from which he graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sports management, he never told his father — who was a college trustee — that he was applying.

He has helped to arrange sponsorships to defray the estimated $300,000 cost of his walk. Southwest Airlines has picked up every domestic airfare. Continental Airlines has underwritten the flights to the British Open and the Canadian Open. FootJoy has donated shoes, Ashworth has sent shirts and Outback Steakhouse has provided meals.

He is part of the tour now, on a first-name basis with most of the caddies, acknowledged by most of the players. D. J. Gregory has become an ambassador who speaks to as many United Cerebral Palsy chapters and groups as he can. He receives hundreds of e-mail messages from people he does not know and answers them all.

“I never had the idea that I would do this to be an inspiration,” Gregory said. “It’s a personal challenge, and I love doing it because I love golf. The thing I would say to people is, go for your dream. Don’t listen if somebody tells you that you can’t do it.”

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