Playing a round of golf at St. Andrew’s in Scotland is a bucket-list pilgrimage for many avid players. It is literally the “Home of Golf,” with more than 600 years of rich history, including hosting the prestigious British Open 29 times.
I’m not a great golfer, but I love the game. So when I had a chance to play at St. Andrew’s in early 2015, it was a dream come true. But it turned out to be much more than that.
When I went to bed at the hotel that night, I was tired, but I also noticed something else: I didn’t ache. And I felt relatively loose. Those were strange feelings for a guy who had been battling Parkinson’s disease (PD) for almost a decade.
At first, I thought it might just be adrenaline — riding the high of fulfilling a longtime wish. But when I returned to Chicago, I played another round of 18, and I could tell that my right arm and right foot were looser. My right side is my weak side, so I thought that was interesting. I played again, and had the same feeling. I played eight to ten more times over the next few weeks, and I could tell something was definitely happening.
I called my neurologist, Dr. Martha McGraw at Northwestern Hospital, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence, and told her the story. I told her my walking was back to normal, that I could run, and that my right leg wasn’t dragging anymore. She was skeptical, but told me to make an appointment, so I did. When I went in, she told me to walk down the hall. When I turned around to walk back, she was in shock. She couldn’t believe it. She even said, “Oh my, it looks like you’re pre-Parkinson’s.”
Dr. McGraw couldn’t explain it, and neither could I. I thought I had been getting enough exercise all along. Since my 2008 diagnosis, I had tried everything. Aerobics. Stretching. An ancient Chinese martial art and exercise characterized by gentle, flowing movement couple with breathing. Has been shown to improve symptoms of PD.. Hip-hop dancing. Triathlons. Yoga. Boxing. I even ran a marathon! I believe that these things, plus my medication, might have slowed down my Parkinson’s, but none helped all that much. And certainly none took me back to how I was feeling before I was diagnosed.
But then came golf. And even better, I discovered Topgolf, which is kind of a jazzed-up driving range, combining golf with food and fun, sports and socializing. I started playing at my local Topgolf a few times a week, and when their corporate headquarters heard my story, they gave me a platinum membership and a custom-designed set of clubs.
I play Topgolf five to seven times a week, hitting about 140 balls each time. I also play a regular 18 holes a couple times a week.
I’m amazed at how I feel now, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. When I was first diagnosed, I was angry with God. After I railed at him for a while, I felt like he was saying, “Are you done now? I’ve got plans for you. I’ve got your back.”
Now, I wake up every day and walk by faith, not by sight. I just take it one day at a time. But overall, I don’t feel like I even have Parkinson’s anymore, even though I know I do. My strength is back, my voice is strong, I don’t choke on things anymore, I can type again, and I have more energy than I’ve had in years. I’m 62, but I feel like I’m in my 40s again. I definitely have a new lease on life.
I feel like golf has been the perfect par-scription for me. Pun intended.
In honor of Gary Smith and World Parkinson’s Day, Topgolf donated $10,000 to the Parkinson’s Foundation in 2017. Learn more about Topgolf at www.topgolf.com