“You’re not a quitter. That’s why you’re still here.”
That’s the advice Chris Bowers gives fellow wounded service members who become frustrated while he’s teaching them the game of golf, a sport he’s grown to love in the seven years since the injury that caused him to lose his left leg below the knee.
“Golf was my addiction. It truly gave me the confidence and drive to get out of that hospital bed.”
Along with a small group of Veterans that started playing around the same time, Chris volunteers as many of his Saturdays as he is able teaching others the game he has grown to love in the same place where he first learned to play. Each Saturday more than 60 Veterans attend the clinics, sponsored by Disabled Sports USA’s Warfighter Sports program, to learn from PGA Professionals and their peers about the game of golf and the long process of rehabilitation.
Chris is a relatable teacher because he understand their frustrations. He is one of them. A medically retired Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, Chris enlisted in 2003 and was deployed to Iraq in 2007. While on combat operations in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq, Chris’s leg was severely crushed.
The injury caused significant damage to his left leg, and he ended up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. After spending two years in physical therapy at the hospital, where doctors did everything to try and salvage the limb, Chris chose to have the leg amputated to improve his quality of life.
While at the hospital, he was approached by representatives of Disabled Sports USA’s Warfighter Sports Program. They offered an invitation to come out and play golf at a Saturday learn-to-golf clinic series aimed at getting injured service members active soon after their injuries.
“[They] walked into my room one day and invited me out to play golf. I was like, ‘No. Get out of my room.’”
But the Warfighter Sports representatives were persistent, and finally wore Chris down. He headed out to a clinic.
“Mostly I just wanted to call their bluff.”
At the time, Chris was in a wheelchair. He couldn’t stand or walk for long periods of time and his first few times on the golf course were spent learning the more subtle aspects of the game: putting and chipping. He had never played golf before his injury and the experience was completely different than any athletic pursuit Chris had been involved in.
“I was always pretty athletic. I could pick up any sport quickly. Golf wasn’t like that. You really had to work for it.”
The hard work on the golf course mirrored the effort Chris was expending during those long days of physical therapy at Walter Reed and made the process more meaningful.
“It was the spark I was looking for. I realized that the outcomes were based on my efforts and the better I did with my therapy, the better my golf game got. If you work for it, good things will happen.”
So Chris put in the work, both in therapy and on the links. As he relearned to walk at the hospital, he improved his golf swing, spending as much free time at the driving range and on the course as he possibly could.
As Chris continued to improve his game, he realized that he could assist newer warriors in the hospital setting in gaining the same benefits he had received. Instead of attending Saturday clinics as a participant, Chris set his sights on instructing. He shadowed his former mentors and received the appropriate training required to begin instructing on his own.
“We always talk about the circle. You can’t stop with just one person. Keeping these experiences available for the next guy, it shows how deep we are as a wounded veteran community.”
This goal of giving back keeps Chris outside, active and playing a game he’s grown to love in the seven years since his injury. Mostly, he enjoys sharing the newfound freedom that golf gave him after his injury.
“They’ve already won. They’re still here. Now they’ve just got to go out and play golf. And golf is fun.”