Like the rest of us, our correspondent Philippa Kennedy might complain about missed putts, duff shots, or a slight niggle, but after attending a recent golf day she’s now counting her blessings and there’ll be no more moaning!
Next time I find myself complaining about aches and pains I will remember a chilly morning in September when I met a group of very special people who really do have something to moan about … but don’t.
A golf day in aid of Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK, run by an inspirational woman called Hannah Harris, brought them together at The Shire Golf Club near Barnet, Herts.
Hannah’s life took a bizarre and frightening twist when she contracted a virus that attacked her auto-immune system and left her immobile.
Now 57 and still living with the effects of sclerodoma, Hannah says that golf gave her back her life after battling back from the condition that saw her weight plummet to 38 kilos (just over five and a half stones) and her skin tighten all over her body, restricting her movement. She spent six months in intensive care and quite literally had to learn to walk again.
A keen and talented athlete who ran cross-country for the Welsh under 15s team, swam competitively and competed in triathlons and steeplechasing, Hannah’s life and health crashed completely.
In 1993 she and husband Jeff, 60, decided to adopt a baby from overseas and while they were there, Hannah contracted Hepatitis C from the water.
“It started a chain reaction of events that sent my body into shutdown. It hit me like an express train, without stopping. I was diagnosed after two years with Diffuse Systemic Sclerosis, with an overlap of liver problems and Lupus. As far as I was concerned my life was over, I was only 32-years-old.”
It took three years to diagnose by which time all the damage had been done. She had to be peg-fed through her stomach and ended up with five auto-immune conditions. Her skin became tight over her face and body and her hands curled up.
The worst thing for Hannah was that she was unable to be a hands-on mother to her baby son. “I couldn’t even hold him. It took the joy away from it.”
Seven years ago, Jeff, a keen golfer, suggested she tried golf. It posed new challenges for Hannah who couldn’t even hold a club to begin with, but her sheer determination and instant love of the game helped her persevere.
“I haven’t very much power and I have a peculiar swing. I find it difficult to turn and compensate by lifting up my left leg as I swing,” she says cheerfully.
She hits a straight ball although not very far, playing with lightweight clubs.
She loves her 7-wood which she calls her magic wand and even chips with it.
With a stiff breeze blowing across the stunning fairways of The Shire, Hannah was layering up - whatever the temperature, she feels it 10% lower. She wears a special vest, almost like tin foil, bought from the USA that reflects heat, plus a light down jacket over a warm waistcoat and a thermal hat. She has to wear wrap-around glasses otherwise her eyes stream and uses a buggy to get around.
Playing with her were her friend Lorraine White who suffers from MS and her husband John:
“When we are out on the golf course, we aren’t handicapped”, says Lorraine.
They have nothing but praise for The Shire who have been considerate and compassionate to disabled golfers.
Says Hannah, who plays twice a week off 36:
“They are very disabled friendly. They tell us to start on the 10th and take our time. The course is owned by a lovely family, who also host the Disabled Golf Open.”
Most of the players are members of the Disabled Golf Association with varying degrees of disability including wheelchair users and amputees. Says Hannah: “I feel a bit intimidated when I play with able-bodied people but the DGA has given so many of us our confidence back.''
Her ambition is to spread the word about golf and encourage others with disabilities to take up the sport. “I want to raise awareness of Sclerodoma to enable early diagnosis.''
“I have my ups and downs, good and bad health, but my coping skills are: let’s see what’s in store tomorrow, next week and next month, and that’s what I focus on, the positives not the negatives.”
For more information visit Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK, visit: www.sruk.co.uk
The above is an extract from the latest issue of Women & Golf magazine, on sale today. Never miss an issue, click here to subscribe and enjoy W&G delivered to your door.