Playing golf after life-altering trauma

By Jack Cooper/El Inde

Three years ago, Christopher Schmidt was on his way to work one day when he noticed something was off. He was looking at a red light and noticed it was blurry. He didn’t think anything of it and went on with his day, but his eyes weren’t getting any better. If anything, his vision was getting worse.

Day after day, he noticed his eyesight was deteriorating but he didn’t do anything about it until he was playing a round of golf with his dad.

“I hit a pipe down the fairway and he goes, ‘You can’t see that?’ And I go ‘No, I can’t see that.’” Schmidt said.

Schmidt went in for an eye exam and they were finally able to find out what was wrong. After just getting his eyes dilated, the doctors found out that Schmidt’s optic nerves were pinched. There wasn’t anything wrong with his eyeball, he just wasn’t getting enough light in through them. 

After that, Schmidt got an MRI and what came back was really surprising.

“I had a tumor ironically the size of a golf ball right behind my nose, between my eyeballs,” Schmidt said. “And that was wrapped around the optic nerve. So if the eyeballs have a nerve that goes into a Y, it was right in between them. So they thought, we’ll get in there. It’s a very normal type of tumor.”

The next step was to get the tumor out and Schmidt was told it was going to be a three-to-four hour surgery and it shouldn’t be too bad. But a three-to-four hour surgery turned into a 12-to-13 hour surgery because the tumor got wrapped around his optic nerve. 

The doctors were only able to get 40 percent of the tumor out, and it turned out the tumor was extremely rare and usually only found in toddlers. He now only has tunnel vision and peripheral vision and is legally blind. 

Before Schmidt lost his vision, he liked to describe himself as an “OK weekend warrior golfer.” But after losing most of his vision, golf has been what Schmidt has relied on. After going through this experience, he joined the University of Arizona’s Adaptive Athletics Program and helped start the golf team.

After a golf simulator was added to the program in 2019, Schmidt spends a lot of his time there, training for tournaments all around the country.

Someone else who helped start the program went through a different trauma of his own: Jesse Williamson. He was with the second battalion, Third Marines in 2009 when got sent out on a Quick Reaction Force mission. These types of missions are relatively common. 

“One of our sister platoons had troops in contact,” Williamson said. “So we had gotten sent out on our QRF missions. One of our buddies had gotten killed. So on our way back from that is when we got hit.” Five men in his Humvee would die after the explosion that day.

While getting blown up and having everything from his shins down destroyed, Williamson didn’t opt for prosthetics right away. He’d broken his C-7, C-8 and C-9 bones in his spine. But despite all this, Williamson’s recovery process wasn’t as bad as someone might think.

“It was easier for me because a lot of guys when they’re in a blast or something, the last thing that they remember is all that pain and everything that they’ve been in,” Williamson said. “Luckily for me, the last thing I remember is like no pain. I just couldn’t walk whenever I wanted. I was in pain, but if I was just sitting there, I’d be fine.”

Unlike Schmidt, Williamson didn’t start playing golf until after his injury. The sport is completely new, but it’s been a way for him to rehabilitate.

“I have learned a lot of life lessons in golf, (like living) in the moment and not so much in the past,” Williamson said. Adaptive golf has allowed him to work on himself while helping others along the way. And that, Williamson said, “is very therapeutic in itself.”

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