Disabled vet raises money for Operation PAVE at Paralyzed Veterans Golf Open

Former Army Sgt. Robert Fecteau, of Triangle, Va., works on his short game at the Paralyzed Veterans Golf Open on June 3. The event raised $320,000 for job programs for disabled troops and former service members.

Thanks to some awesome technology, former Army Sgt. Robert Fecteau hit the links this week to play a few holes even though he’s partially paralyzed from the neck down.

In 2010, Fecteau was having fun sliding and sloshing through a mud run when tragedy struck — a slip-up in an obstacle pit wrenched his neck and fractured several cervical vertebrae, rendering him an “incomplete tetraplegic,” which in fancy medical terms means he has extremely limited function of his arms and legs.

The former medical laboratory specialist, who served in the military for eight years, faced a long recovery, including wondering whether he’d ever play sports again.

On Monday, with the help of a high-tech cart called the Paragolfer, he at least could play golf with his dad. Fecteau was among a group of wounded troops and veterans who took part in the Paralyzed Veterans Golf Open, a tournament at Trump National in Potomac Falls, Va., to raise money for the Paralyzed Veterans of America’s vocational rehabilitation program, Operation PAVE.

According to Fecteau, the experience was “freeing.”

“It’s a very liberating feeling to be back on the golf course, free to enjoy the outdoors and actively participate in the game as opposed to watching from the gallery or on television,” he said.

Using a Pargolfer, Fecteau could stand and swing a club; the design allows for unrestricted shoulder movement, letting a user move unencumbered.

“That is vital to achieving the proper mechanics of ball striking,” Fecteau said in an email afterward. “Physically, it just felt great to stand up, stretch out and have eye-to-eye level contact with others.”

The golf tournament, in its sixth year, raised $320,000 for Operation PAVE. It also gave wounded and injured troops and veterans a chance to mingle with one another and learn tips from PGA golfer and event volunteer Albert Fenstomocher.

It also provided the opportunity for veterans to play again with family and friends. In Fecteau’s case, it meant going a round with his father, retired Army Maj. Robert Fecteau, from whom he learned the sport.

“He has, amongst hundreds of family and friends, been the unwavering foundation of my support structure … being able to golf again gives us back a piece of our identity, but even more importantly, signifies just how far we have come on this journey,” he said.

Fecteau said he looks forward to the next event where a Paragolfer is available. Like most pieces of adaptive equipment for the disabled, the cart is expensive — about $20,000 — out of reach for most people to own one for individual use, although Fecteau said he wouldn’t mind having one.

“The game itself is a great analogy to life. We continually challenge ourselves, trying to perfect our shot. However, no matter how good we become, there will always be a bad shot or day. It’s in those bad shots or days that we find our courage, determination and resiliency to move forward and swing again,” he said.

Patricia Kime is the health reporter for Military Times. She can be reached at pkime@militarytimes.com.