Harold Yago grew up playing sports. He was on the varsity soccer and basketball teams in high school and played in an intramural basketball league in the Air Force. He also loved being outdoors.
However, his military occupation as a civil engineer took a toll on his body and mental health. During a deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia during the war in Afghanistan, he operated heavy equipment on unimproved surfaces for long hours every day. The constant bumping and bouncing from driving a front-end loader caused whiplash and a severe traumatic brain injury. He also frequently participated in simulated bombings and other training exercises that intensified the injuries.
“They led me to my depression and isolation,” Yago said of his experiences.
When he left the military in 2005 after eight years of service, he was withdrawn, and high-intensity sports were too painful.
He moved to Las Vegas and began receiving treatment through his local Department of Veterans Affairs medical center. It was there that his recreational therapist suggested he try playing golf with other Veterans as a way to reconnect with people and get outside and participate in a sport that was low impact.
That suggestion, Yago said, was a turning point.
“It helped me and helped save my life,” he said. “Being out playing golf has helped me heal and with my mental health.”
Through counseling, he’s learned another important aspect of healing is opening up to others and sharing his story. Golfing with other Veterans has facilitated those conversations, and he said he’s become more outgoing again because of it.
Yago first learned about the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic last year but was too late to register as a participant in 2022. He wasn’t too late to be a volunteer, though, and served as a golf buddy helping participants around the course throughout the week.
He said that experience showed him that a major part of the clinic is the camaraderie with fellow Veterans who’ve experienced their own unique challenges.
This year, Yago is attending the clinic as a participant and said there’s a sense of excitement and anticipation of getting to meet new people—feelings he hadn’t felt for years after leaving the military.
He’s become more outgoing in other areas of his life since taking up golf, too. Yago joined DAV Chapter 12 in Las Vegas, where he was recently elected as the chaplain and frequently participates in its activities.
Similar to his involvement with DAV, the main reason Yago said he plays golf is the healing he’s discovered through the relationships he’s formed.
“You don’t have to be competitive to be out there,” he said. “The community is my therapy.”