Sep. 10—DANVILLE — The sport of golf has helped veteran and Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System Emergency Medical Services employee Paul White overcome a loss of vision.
It's also now taking him places he never imagined.
VA staff had a send-off event for the Marine Corps veteran Friday morning at the gazebo outside the chapel at the VA in Danville.
White is representing Danville at the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic in Iowa City, Iowa. He leaves Sunday.
White said all he knows about what he'll be doing is that he's on the red team representing Danville.
White has glaucoma that has caused his vision loss.
When playing golf, he can now see about 100 yards out.
He had surgery to help his sight.
The Kansas City, Mo., native said he was more used to a baseball field when he was introduced to golf about three years ago through the VA's Blind Rehabilitation Program at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago.
But when he started playing and hitting the golf ball, he said he didn't want to stop.
"When I first hit it, I was amazed. I was totally blind when I hit the first ball. I was coached really well by the team at Hines. They did really good therapy on me. Once I hit that first ball, I wanted to hit more," White said.
VA officials said they're very proud to send White off to Iowa. They wished him the best of luck and gave him a gift basket that included golf balls and a travel pillow, and a coat in case of rain.
Staci Williams, VA Illiana medical center director, said when she meets someone with much better golf ability that she has, "I am always impressed."
Williams said they as an organization are really excited to have the opportunity to send White to the national golf clinic. It's a great opportunity to interact with other veterans, and they hope he enjoys that piece as much as he'll enjoy the golfing.
"I look forward to it," White said.
"Congratulations and thank you for representing VA Illiana," Williams added.
Travis Winkler, supervisor of recreation at the VA, said White came from a period of depression and isolation and not having much hope, to being introduced to a new activity.
Golf was a new sport to look forward to.
Winkler said White can take this experience and come back and share it with other veterans.
"The first time we got on the range, I set a ball down and told him to get out your favorite club. He pulled a 6 iron out, and he hit that thing straight down the fairway. And I knew right then this is going to be a great experience for him," Winkler said. "We are all behind you and support you. We can't wait to hear when you get back what your experiences were, and the takeaways you got for other veterans to experience the same."
"I look forward to continue to work with you when you get back and do other things," Winkler said.
White said, "You know that; I'll be right there with you."
White added about Winkler, "He taught me some swings. He got my swing down. I was slicing."
White said he hit a sign on the driving range — a 100-meter sign, with his 9-iron club.
"It was a big gong," Winkler laughed, talking about the first time seeing that done.
The VA Blind Rehabilitation and Recreation Therapy programs give veterans the skills and strategies they need to live active, fulfilling lives. For White, a legally blind local veteran, developing his golf game earned him a spot at the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic.