Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 5:44 pm
By LAURA KEBEDE Richmond Times-Dispatch
When multiple sclerosis took away Sid Cook’s ability to walk 13 years ago, he gave away his golf clubs.
His beloved sport was not compatible with life in a wheelchair. Wheelchair adaptations have been made for such sports as basketball, cycling, track and field events, tennis and even X Games. But Cook, who has lived with the autoimmune disease since 1973, figured he wouldn’t find a solution in his lifetime.
Then in 2012, he found out about the Stand Up & Play Foundation, a national nonprofit based in Midlothian that provides paramobiles that allow paraplegics to stand securely to participate in various sports and activities.“His wife said it was the happiest she had seen him in 10 years,” said Jerry Yospin, the organization’s board chairman.
“And now she gets upset because I play too much,” joked Cook, citing his visits to Windy Hill Sports Complex three to four times per week.
To get in position to practice his swing, Cook is strapped in at his feet, ankles, waist and chest. With the push of a button, he is slowly raised to standing, which relieves pressure on his backside from sitting most of the time. That prevents bedsores, allows for increased blood flow and airflow to his lungs, and gives him the psychological satisfaction of being on eye level with the rest of the world.
The Stand Up & Play Foundation keeps a few paramobiles at the complex for paralyzed individuals who have been medically evaluated and approved for use.
Founder Anthony Netto, a longtime avid golfer before and after the accident that paralyzed him, hopes to donate five devices in every state.
Currently, paramobiles exist either privately owned or for facility use in 26 states, Washington, D.C., Marine Camp Butler in Japan, and three locations in Canada.
“I issue a challenge to anyone who thinks they can’t stand up,” Netto said. “And we’ll show him he can.”
The multiterrain vehicles run about $30,000, but the organization purchases them for about $22,000. Much of its funds are earmarked for veterans to own a paramobile for personal use, but it hopes to expand its reach to more children. Its partnership with Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation Centers allows for therapy to happen at the same time as recreation.
Clinics are held periodically at Windy Hill Sports Complex for training and evaluation, free of charge.
The all-volunteer organization gave away four paramobiles in the Richmond area last year and 40 nationwide. Netto moved the foundation’s headquarters to the Richmond area about a year ago because of the dedicated volunteer base and demand for their services. Its executive director, Elizabeth Armstrong, also lives here.
The benefits of the device go beyond golfing, Netto said. Other uses have included archery, fly-fishing, shooting or just giving a significant other “a big bear hug.”
Ronnie Middlebrook, who lives in Hanover, said golfing also provides a social outlet for him and motivated him during times he was particularly depressed about his paralysis.
“I can’t emphasize psychologically what I would give to get that back,” he said. “You experience what you had and get a part of your life back.”