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Blind Army veteran finds hope and purpose on golf course

Army veteran William Mathis was skeptical the first time he stepped foot on a golf course in 2016, but a recreational therapist had convinced him to give it a try.

“I was like, I don’t know how they foresee me doing this,” said Mathis, a DAV member of Chapter 50 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“I can’t even see the ball, for crying out loud!”

By that time, Mathis was legally blind, a delayed result of a traumatic brain injury he sustained during a mortar attack in Iraq in 2011. Five months after the attack, Mathis was driving near Fort Drum, New York, when he realized he couldn’t see the signs on the road. He saw an optometrist on post and was diagnosed with open-angle glaucoma, a progressive eye disease that can cause vision loss.

By 2013, Mathis was medically discharged from the Army. Within a few years, he was declared legally blind. He also continued to struggle with PTSD from his deployment.

“I had lost hope and I found myself hiding in my home and not wanting to leave except for food and doctors’ appointments,” said Mathis, adding that he worried about how his vision loss would affect his role as husband and father.

“I was just in a deep, dark hole.”

Then, while Mathis was in rehabilitation at the Hines VA Blind Rehabilitation Center in Illinois, he was invited to a golf outing. Despite his initial skepticism, Mathis had a blast that first day on the course.

“The coach they paired me with for the day– she was absolutely amazing,” he said. “It was about enjoying the day and having fun.

“I had forgotten how to do that.”

Fun soon turned into purpose and resolve. Mathis started taking golf classes through an adaptive sports program for veterans with disabilities, and joined a national golf association for blind players. Since then, he has placed in the top three in tournaments around the country. Now he plays three to five days a week.

“When I’m out on the golf course, I’m able to forget and not focus on what happened to me in the past and be able to be in the here and now,” Mathis said. “I’m able to be grounded on this course.”

The 2022 National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic in Iowa City, Iowa, is the first for Mathis. It’s also the first time the clinic is being held in person since 2019, before COVID-19 brought the event to a temporary halt.

“I’m looking forward to getting to be with other veterans–especially the vision-impaired veterans–and share my love for the game and how it’s helped me,” Mathis said. “There is hope and purpose for each and every one of us. We just have to find it.

“Through the game of golf, I found purpose again.”


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