Para for the course
When Jacqui Walburn became a paraplegic as a result of a thoracic spinal cord tumour she never thought for a second that she'd be able to return to the game she loves.
But here we are at the beautiful Long Reef Golf Club (LRGC) practice green, and five years after her original diagnosis we watch as she effortlessly sinks a five-foot putt.
How? An innovative mobility device called the ParaGolfer. It basically lifts the occupant from a sitting position to a standing position (with knees locked in), allowing for unrestricted shoulder movement - for a golfer that means an unimpeded swing.
The ParaGolfer initiative has been co-funded by the Sargood Foundation and Empower Golf, and it can be hired at LRGC, making it just the second 100 per cent disabled-friendly golf course in Australia.
Jacqui, who grew up on the North Shore in Willoughby and Chatswood, is currently demonstrating how it works, as dignitaries and media personnel watch-on gobsmacked. She is smiling from ear-to-ear, and it's no wonder considering the adversity she has had to overcome. Becoming an incomplete paraplegic meant she couldn't join her weekly golf group 'Swingers' for their weekly round, and was resigned to meeting them afterwards for a cuppa at the clubhouse.
"I'm out there [at LRGC] and I often said when I got home, 'I wish I could have a hit and get on the course with [my friends]'. The social side is wonderful and the lunch but I really missed the golf itself,” she tells North Shore Living.
"It's just exhilarating I just can't believe it! It's a big day for all and I'll have my tee time booked every week with the girls, maybe even more than that because I'll need some practice," she laughs.
Representative for Empower Golf and Sargood ambassador, James Gribble, talked about how he used to skip university lectures to play at LRGC before he later had an accident which rendered him a quadriplegic.
Now he works with Empower to make golf universally accessible to people of all abilities - like Jacqui.
The Sargood Foundation, which is currently building a state-of-the-art spinal cord injury rehabilitation centre in Collaroy, didn't hesitate when James approached them.
"Firstly we discussed it with James and [LRGC] and we had no doubt it would be incredibly beneficial, so we had a fundraising event in February this year with Brian Lara and raised the money to go a half share with Empower Golf," explains Sargood Foundation CEO, Kris Ashpole.
"It's fantastic to get to this point, it's an amazing initiative to be able to provide an accessible golf cart for people with spinal cord injury - so we're very proud to be a part of it."The ParaGolfer is now available full-time at LRGC subject to bookings, so to express interest visit longreefgolfclub.com.au/ paragolfer/ and fill out the required forms. Alternatively you can get in touch with Sargood Foundation on 9984 1100 or via email at email@example.com.