WALLINGFORD — When Claudio Cabrera of Cheshire emailed Gaylord Hospital’s Sports Association Program Manager Katie Joly about a new wheelchair-like device that could help him play golf, he was not quite sure how long it would take for the hospital to raise the funds to purchase one.
He definitely did not expect it to only take one year.
With more members from the Gaylord adaptive golf program inquiring about the ParaGolfer, Joly said she knew that she had to find a way to bring one to the hospital.
“As we moved forward with our golf program, more participants like Claudio were looking for it,” Joly said. “This Paragolfer has so much more benefits and is better for adaptive golf than what we have. So, we have really been interested in purchasing it and it was really just about getting the funds to do it.”
The ParaGolfer costs approximately $34,000. Gaylord Hospital received $12,500 from the Stand Up and Play Foundation, $10,000 from the Scappaticci-Steinberg Foundation and $2,500 from its Gaylord Gauntlet event. The hospital was able to pay for the rest.
Accompanied by Anthony Netto, co-inventor of the ParaGolfer and founder of the Stand Up and Play Foundation, Gaylord Hospital unveiled its brand new machine on Thursday afternoon.
The ParaGolfer has three wheels, two in the front and one in the back. It is easy to ride and, most importantly for golfers who are paralyzed, it raises them into a standing position with safe support.
Netto said that the ParaGolfer is not used exclusively for golf. He shared a story of a groom who was able to dance with his bride with the help of the ParaGolfer.
This brand new chair will be utilized at Gaylord’s adaptive golf clinics, by the hospital’s adaptive golf club and in the six-week veterans golf class at Sleeping Giant Golf Course.
Cabrera was able to test out the ParaGolfer on Thursday with the assistance of Netto, who became paralyzed in 1991 after he was shot in the line of duty as a member of the South African Defense Force.
Cabrera said the ParaGolfer will allow him to play the sport more naturally.
“It's pretty amazing to be able to play golf again,” Cabrera said. “When you use the regular chair, you have a lot of limitations because the little wheels get stuck on the grass. It depends a lot on the terrain you are on.
“But with the new chair,” Cabrera added, “you are free. There is freedom.”
The alternative to the ParaGolfer is a traditional seated golf cart, which Gaylord Hospital utilizes as well.
“The problem with a seated golf cart for a paraplegeic, if you are sitting and moving your hips, your legs are in the way,” Netto said. “So you start tilting, which is worse on the [seated golf cart] because it is not holding you properly and your body slides. The slide and friction causes skin tear.
“It means [well], but unfortunately, up until now, the ParaGolfer wasn’t available for people in wheelchairs.”
Inventions like the ParaGolfer and other advances in technology are constant reminders to Cabrera that his life can still be lived to the fullest.
“It's all about improving life because there are so many things; you can live your life with a spinal cord injury,” Cabrera said. “For many people, it’s a bad condition and a bad situation that nobody wants to go through. But today there are so many options that you can live a great life even with a spinal cord injury because they have so much technology.”
When Cabrera became paralyzed in 2007 after a car accident, he was unsure of how he would continue to play sports with the same competitiveness.
“I’m a very big fan of sports,” Cabrera said. “I used to play a lot of sports before my injury and being able to play golf again, I’m just happy. That’s all I can think about right now: happiness.”
Joly, who has worked in therapeutic recreation since 2001, said the reason why she loves her job is because of the positive impact it has on other people’s lives.
“If we are able to give someone this opportunity and show people that they still can get out and play golf or do archery and be able to do it independently and comfortably, its just awesome,” she said. “I absolutely love what I do.”