IF YOU GO

What: First Swing Adaptive Golf Clinic

When and Where: Oct. 11 and 12. Registration for therapists and pros is from 7:30 to 8 a.m. Oct. 11. Class starts at 8 a.m. at San College s Henderson Fine Arts Center, 4601 College Blvd. In the afternoon, class takes place at Piñon Hills Golf Course, 2101 Sunrise Parkway. From 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 12, golf class for the disabled takes place at Piñon Hills Golf Course.

Cost: $25 for physical therapists and golf pros. Free for the disabled. Snacks and golf equipment will be provided.

More info: To register or for more information: Call Gary Willmart at 505-632-0440 or email flyfshrs@wildblue.net. Registration deadline for therapists and golf pros is Oct. 1. Deadline for disabled participants is Oct. 10.

FARMINGTON — While some people with disabilities may feel like certain activities -- like a game of golf -- are off-limits, the First Swing Adaptive Golf Clinic aims to dispel that.

The two-day clinic, which is hosted by San Juan Regional Medical Center's Living Life After Stroke Support Group, takes place Oct. 11 and 12 at San Juan College and Piñon Hills Golf Course. Organizers are encouraging participants with disabilities to sign up now for the clinic.

The first day focuses on showing physical therapists and golf professionals how to teach people with disabilities to golf. On the second day, that teaching is put into action as the therapists and pros help disabled individuals play golf.

A teacher from the National Amputee Golf Association will lead the training. NAGA has hosted more than 400 similar clinics throughout the U.S. and Canada. The association hosted a clinic last year in Farmington for the first time.

A NAGA instructor will teach the therapists and golf professionals how to work with people who have varying levels of disabilities. Later during that first day, students will go to the Piñon Hills Golf Course to practice what they've learned.

The second day will be devoted to working with disabled people and showing them how to perform various golf moves while using a specially-designed golf cart. People in wheelchairs are welcome to participate.

Therapists and pros pay $25 for the clinic and will earn 1.2 continuing education units and 12 contact hours. There is no charge for disabled participants.

"Therapists normally have to pay several hundred dollars for these hours," said Gary Willmart, who is organizing the event, along with San Juan Regional Medical Center's Dr. Paul Cutler. Cutler is also creator of the hospital's stroke support group.

Dr. Paul Cutler, a stroke survivor, golfs during the First Swing Adaptive Golf Clinic at Pinon Hills Golf Course in May 2012.
Dr. Paul Cutler, a stroke survivor, golfs during the First Swing Adaptive Golf Clinic at Pinon Hills Golf Course in May 2012. (Courtesy of Gary Willmart)

While there are still slots available for therapists to participate in the clinic, Willmart hopes more disabled people will sign up. And, he said, he is eager to show them that it's possible to participate in activities like golf.

Willmart knows what it's like to be disabled. He suffered a stroke 13 years ago and lost the use of his left hand and arm, along with some of the use of his left leg.

"I made a decision after the stroke to try to live as normally as possible," he said. "In our stroke support group, there are several people who used to be golfers. They all thought they wouldn't golf again, and it was so amazing during last year's clinic to see them realize they can."

Dr. Wendy Bircher is San Juan College's former director of the Physical Therapist Assistant Program. She now works for an outpatient facility and a home health care company. Bircher participated in last year's clinic.

"It was incredible to see people who were at first unsure about how they would be able to golf hitting balls on the driving range by the end of the morning. Some did really well," Bircher said. "It's so important for them to realize that no matter their disability, they can participate. It's a really rewarding experience."

Willmart agrees the most important byproduct of the clinic is instilling new confidence and hope.

"Some stroke survivors tend to give up or are looking for a magic pill to make them better, but there is none," he said. "Disabled people need to realize that there is no real barrier to doing what they want. Instead of worrying about what they lost, they need to take inventory of what they have and learn to use it. But it takes a strong desire and hard work."

Leigh Black Irvin covers health for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and lirvin@daily-times.com Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.