This article can be found published on the Avon Grove Sun‘s website and the Daily Local News‘ website.
OXFORD – Rich and Sheila Lawlor love everything about golf, from the time spent playing together to watching it live and on TV.
It was no surprise they wanted to pass the fondness of the sport along to their children – until their firstborn came along two months premature and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy before he was even a month old.
“[The doctor] grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘I would prepare your family not to ever expect too much of this child,’” Rich said. “You’re in shock through the whole ordeal. It was like being hit in the face with a brick.”
It’s a hard thing for parents to imagine happening to their child and something no one is quite prepared for.
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“You’re full of hope and excitement and dreams for your child and then boom, it gets crushed with uncertainties,” Sheila said. “No one gives you any guarantees and then it’s compounded with medical issues.”
What no one expected was golf being such an important factor in young C.J.’s life and even helping him face the challenges along the way.
Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways with their mobility, but one in three are unable to walk and one in four are unable to talk, according to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
“The doctors at one point told us he wouldn’t try to walk until maybe between age 4 or 5,” Rich said. “[C.J.] tried to use one of my golf clubs and his arm on the couch to get up to walk a couple days after his second birthday.”
He kept on proving people wrong and learned to swing a little plastic golf club by the time he was 3.
“I remember one time I went up to [the doctor] and shook his hand and thanked him for telling me [to not expect much] in front of C.J.’s little incubator,” Rich said. “It is my opinion that C.J. heard every word he said.”
C.J. used golf to help him learn to walk with a club in his hand and helps his balance issues to the point where he can now walk without any help. He even joined his father out on the course and continued to progress in the sport.
“I still remember the summer after my eighth-grade year [my father and I] were hitting balls out on a range and I stopped him mid-swing and said, ‘Dad, I want to try out for the golf team,” C.J. said.
He didn’t make the Oxford High School golf team right away, but it never deterred him. It instead made his desire greater and he practiced harder and fought his way onto the team his junior year.
C.J. has some issues with his motor skills on his left side, but he overcomes it in golf with different grips on his club to allow him to grip it better.
“To use golf as a vehicle to make him feel as if he’s whole is something Sheila and I thought would be a great thing from an early age,” Rich said. “He recognizes and laments his shortcomings and disabilities from time to time, but his real desire to compete on a level field with ‘normal kids’ has been a big objective of his.”
“I don’t know how it’s going to be today on [hole] 9,” C.J. said. “Maybe a little emotional – excited, upset, I’m not sure.”
Whatever emotions he had in the game he was able to fuel into his play.
He finished the match with a score of 49 – the best he has ever had.
“It’s been a roller coaster of ups and downs,” C.J. said. “Golf has always been there for me. I don’t plan on going to college to play golf, but I will always find a way to play it no matter what.”
C.J. hopes everything he has done and accomplished through golf can help comfort others in the same situation and help them to achieve something as great as he has.
“Down the road, I hope to write up a little bit of my story and get it to my coach,” C.J. said. “If somebody in the school district has cerebral palsy or a disability, they can take a look at my story and say, ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it.’”