Blind golf challenges and inspires

Sports fans love an underdog. The ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds has been a source of admiration since David took on Goliath.

After watching professional golfers at the US Open and Traveler’s Championship, some would say just playing the game of golf is sufficiently challenging. Most impressive is when the game is played by athletes who are legally blind.

Blind golf traces its roots in the United States to 1925 when Clint Russell began playing after losing his sight in an accident. The United States Blind Golf Association was established in 1947 and has since been sponsoring organized tournaments.

Interestingly, there is little variation from the traditional rules of golf. Blind golfers work with a coach who is responsible for aligning the club and giving information on distance and direction. The only other significant variation is the ability to ground the club in a hazard before making a shot.

A blind golfer’s coach is more than a caddy as their relationship involves a high level of trust.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind sponsors the Corcoran Cup Masters Invitational golf tournament at the Mt. Kisco Country Club in New York. The field consists of the top 16 blind golfers in the country.

“Sponsoring this tournament over the past 30 years has become a fundamental part of our mission to allow blind and visually impaired people to compete on an equal playing field,” said Michelle Brier, marketing manager at Guiding Eyes. The day following the tournament, blind golfers play in foursomes with sighted golfers as part of a fundraising event.

Golf requires athletic ability and skill. One of the fringe benefits for all golfers is the camaraderie of sharing the experience with others.

Although golf has a significant “visual” component, success is measured by the “sound” of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup.

Readers weigh in with innovative employee wellness programs

Two weeks ago there was a discussion of wellness programs implemented by employers. These programs have been proven to reduce health care expenses and absenteeism while improving morale. Since publishing that column, several employers have presented some innovative ways they have approached employee health and wellness.

American Ambulance of Norwich held a fitness challenge for employees where three teams of 13 were awarded points for making healthy lifestyle choices.

“This challenge was not about weight loss but was instead designed to promote healthy habits for staff and their families,” said Janet Welch, director of human resources. Some choices included tai chi classes and family ski trips.

Bruce Bumpus is a director of Web Industries Hartford and reports that they have a program titled “Step up to the Plate.” It is designed around a baseball format extending over nine weeks/innings. Teams score runs based on their cardiovascular workouts. They have been able to attain 91% employee participation.

Carl Mailhot posted a comment on this blog. His company, Eastern Connecticut Rehabilitation Center, has partnered with employers to design wellness and fitness programs. Their programs include pre-shift stretching, wellness education and worksite-safety. They also provide a physical therapist for consultation regarding ergonomic issues.

If your company has an innovative approach to wellness, send it along to

Another update: this week Governor M. Jodi Rell signed into law a bill requiring that an automatic external defibrillator be available at all scholastic sports activities.

This law is the result of the efforts of Lawrence and Evelyn Pontbriant in memory of their son, Larry. By joining forces with the Connecticut Athletic Trainers Association, they have been able to enact legislation that will save young lives. All parents owe them a debt of gratitude for their perseverance.

Employee fitness contributes to overall wellness

Controversy erupted in Hartford last week when gym equipment for employees to exercise was installed in a lunchroom. This step toward improving the health and fitness of city employees sparked outrage among several city council members.

Many companies and municipalities have been instituting health and wellness programs in an effort to control skyrocketing health costs. Results have shown that any investment in fitness yields benefits including decreased absenteeism, reduced medical costs and better morale.

In challenging economic times, wellness and other forms of preventive care should be viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury.

Several local employers, both large and small, provide a variety of opportunities aimed at keeping their work force healthy. Programs include smoking cessation and stress management, along with onsite fitness centers and discounted gym memberships.

The Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics provides multiple programs for employees.

“Maintaining and staffing an onsite fitness center is only part of our comprehensive health and wellness strategy,” said Alvin Ayers, Director of Health, Wellness and Disability Benefits.

Since 1985, EB has had a fully equipped fitness center open 24/7 and staffed by fitness specialists. Approximately 700 employees regularly utilize the facility that includes cardio and resistance equipment. Other programs include yoga, aerobics and nutrition. EB’s proactive commitment to health has paid off in morale and fitness of the workforce according to Ayers.

Dime Savings Bank provides a fitness facility at its main branch in Norwich but faces the challenge of involving employees at other branches in wellness programs.

“Dime provides discounted local gym memberships for all employees, as well as sponsoring competitive fitness challenges among the various branches,” reports Cheryl Calderado, Senior Vice President for Administration at Dime.

Frequently used fitness equipment is always a good investment, especially in tough economic times. If your company has a fitness center or unique approach to wellness, contact me at

Haitian Soccer Success

Four years ago the Haitian Health Foundation embarked upon a bold effort using participation in a girl’s soccer program as a reward for completing a course in responsible sexuality. The result has been a movement and the establishment of the first organized women’s soccer league in Haiti.

After first reporting this story in a Healthy Sports feature last year, many local citizens and institutions have provided assistance in the form of monetary donations and equipment. Thanks to this support, the program has spread to more remote areas of Haiti and nearly 1,700 girls are enrolled in this year’s course. When taking into consideration past graduates, there will be a total of 52 teams of girls ages 13-19 playing this summer.

What these athletes lack in equipment they make up for in desire and effort. In many villages it has become a source of parental pride to have a daughter play for a team. Empowerment and confidence are two of the attributes that are readily apparent when chatting with players.

Although this program has developed a healthy outlet for these women in regard to personal fitness, the question of whether or not it has resulted in healthier sexual practices remains. Studies comparing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy before the program and since are ongoing. Initial reports, although anecdotal, indicate both these parameters are declining since the program started.

Dr. Jeremiah Lowney is founder and president of the Norwich-based Haitian Health Foundation. “Athletic participation is always a positive distraction for young people. The girl’s soccer league in rural Haiti will result in a healthier population of future mothers. They also receive health information to pass onto their daughters. This program will span generations,” said Lowney.

If you wish to find out more about the HHF soccer program or make a financial or equipment donation, the blog is and the website is