OSWEGO — Greg Callen once took a phone call from a mother describing the joy her daughter felt playing wheelchair basketball under his guidance, comparing the experience to a day at Disney World with her friends.
Callen is now chasing that type of feedback in his newest endeavor — New York Adaptive Golf Inc. — aiming to provide the opportunity for individuals with cognitive or physical limitations to learn the game of golf and join a social network.
For Callen — an Oswego native who is paralyzed from the waist down after an injury from falling off a balcony in 2005 — aiding in building the confidence of others through golf has been more rewarding than smashing the perfect drive far and straight off the tee.
“The goal is to really engage the individual with an opportunity to reintegrate through a social environment that is athletically-inclined, in the hopes that they build up enough confidence, they get over the trauma, the post-traumatic stress they might face due to an accident or a birth defect, and they feel comfortable going out into this environment that we’re creating in hopes it goes to the next level in their lives,” Callen said.
“Everyone has something going on, maybe the wheelchair is more visible than the veteran that has PTSD and high-level anxiety, but we can all help one another,” he added. “We all have something in life that we need to count on others for at some level, and that’s OK. I want NY Adaptive Golf to be a resource and a network people can count on that enables them to not only play golf, but to live life.”
Callen founded NY Adaptive Golf and was approved for non-profit status in January. He had previously spent more than a decade with Move Along Inc. after helping launch that area non-profit that still operates and sponsors several adaptive sports programs.
He was first introduced to the concept less than a year after his injury during a conversation with a man at the store who suffered from spina bifida and invited him to play wheelchair basketball with the Syracuse Wheelchair Flyers.
“I told him it wasn’t really my thing, and I was totally lying to him just because it was less than a year after my injury, I wasn’t ready,” Callen said. “And now, full-circle, I’m trying to get everybody ready and get people out to do the reintegration because at that point in time, he was doing what I want to do, he was helping others.”
Callen took to wheelchair basketball and soon spearheaded the formation a new board of directors and relied on his business background to implement fundraising strategies, also helping transition the organizational name change to “Move Along, Inc.”
The non-profit expanded from a handful of participants meeting for wheelchair basketball to conducting youth wheelchair basketball, hand-cycling, kayaking, indoor aquatics, sled hockey, and physical education programs in area schools.
Golf was always on the target list, Callen said, and he opted to move on and form NY Adaptive Golf to focus on making the expensive equipment required to partake more readily available to those who need the assistance in the area.
“I couldn’t understand why there weren’t more opportunities for individuals that had some limitations, so I started creating them through Move Along, and now with NY Adaptive Golf, I love focusing just on this lane of golf,” Callen said. “It’s a life sport.”
The organization is holding its first tournament on Aug. 28 at Battle Island State Park Golf Course in Fulton. Teams and sponsorships are still being accepted for the captain-and-crew outing by contacting Callen (firstname.lastname@example.org or 315-374-0082).
The proceeds will go to benefit the non-profit and help in their use of obtaining Paramobiles, an expensive cart-like device designed by the Stand Up and Play Foundation to help those with physical limitations move from seated to standing positions to swing the golf club.
“It was quite the amazing piece of equipment,” said Nancy Siembida, an Oswego State graduate that lives in Depew and has worked with NY Adaptive Golf on multiple occasions.
“To me, what was more incredible than just golfing or putting, was the fact of just being able to stand and be supported almost independently. Having that support without a walker or having somebody hold you or whatever, was really, really cool.”
Callen worked with PGA Professional David Windsor to conduct a clinic this past May at the Pompey Club in Jamesville attended by 37 intrigued adaptive golfers.
Thus far, NY Adaptive Golf has focused more on small group sessions utilizing a mix of golf pros and physical therapists to help coach participants and ensure they are comfortable with the process before taking to the course. Those sessions typically consist of a 2:1 or 3:2 ratio of coaches to golfers and utilizes the golf simulator at Malone’s Irish Hideaway in Oswego.
“It’s kind of phases to get the individual comfortable and confident,” Callen said. “We don’t want to lose them and have them go home more discouraged, we certainly don’t want that, so it’s small steps of confidence builders and coaching.”
Callen spoke to the thrill of playing a round of golf with his brother, niece and nephew earlier this summer. The kids were too young to golf with Callen prior to his accident, and the occasion marked their first time getting on the course together.
Callen wants others to share similar experiences and build the cognitive and physical skills to improve quality of life and overall wellness. Ideally, the golf skills are a precursor to potential career opportunities, relief from social anxiety, and a greater sense of mental and physical independence in all areas.
“It was amazing (to play golf with my family) and I was able to be upright and give my parents a hug in this equipment,” Callen said. “I’m very grateful to the Stand Up and Play Foundation who designed this piece of equipment and make it available to create this opportunity. It has been life-changing for me, and I know it has for others.”