Friday, May 30, 2003

Paralyzed golfer inspires students

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dennis Walters shows kids from South Lebanon Elementary one of his trick clubs.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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HAMILTON TWP. - After a golf cart accident left him paralyzed from the waist down in 1974, Dennis Walters was told he would never walk again - let alone play golf. He refused to believe that. A golf cart with a swiveling seat helped him excel to the professional level.

On Thursday, the Florida man and his co-host - his pooch, Benji Hogan - visited the Tournament Players Club at River's Bend to share his story with students from Kings' South Lebanon Elementary. It's part of his nationwide tour to inspire others to follow their dreams.

"There was no way I was giving up golf - this is the thing I really love to do the most," Walters told the more than 200 students who sat in bleachers on the course. "I hope to show you by my life you should never, ever give up on your dreams."

Walters, who started golfing at 8 years old, spent the early 1970s competing in tournaments.

His life changed in July 1974 when the brakes failed on the golf cart he was riding down a steep hill.

He was thrown from the cart and suffered severe spinal cord damage. He still cannot feel his legs.

Walters watches Courtney Clark, a South Lebanon fourth-grader, try to hit one down the fairway.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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"I was told it would be impossible to play golf again," Walters says.

After months of rehabilitation, he started using a wheelchair on the course. His friends helped him upgrade to a golf cart with a chair that rotated for his swing.

Walters, who wears braces on his legs, has a one-handed swing for putting and the bunkers, using a crutch to hold himself steady.

The award-winning golfer has toured the country since the late 1970s with "The Dennis Walters Golf Show," does various clinics and recently wrote a book.

Students were awed by his "trick shots," including hitting off a watch, hitting through fire and hitting with his "3 Iron" club that lets him hit three balls at once.

"He has to be a really good player to do that fire and stuff," fourth-grader Brittany Rosenbalm said.

Walters also uses clubs that are made from a fishing rod, an old crutch and a gavel. As golf ball after golf ball soared down the fairway, students stood up out of the bleachers to see how far it would go.

"You really don't see that in golf," said first-grader Chris Morgan."I try to use my own experiences to inspire them," Walters said. "Yeah, we'd like to get them interested in golf; but the purpose is to get them to do what they want to do. It's a universal message, but especially important for young people."