Josh Swindle: A man on a mission

Paraplegic finds new purpose and passion in game of golf

by Rich O’Brien

Josh Swindle was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. He began playing golf with his family at the age of ten. He also enjoyed playing with his friends in a golf league. He was a decent player, but the score was always secondary to the social benefits of the game.
 
Growing up in the shadow of Notre Dame he played football, but a knee injury ended his career after his freshman year.
 
He finished high school early by completing his GED and joined the Indiana Army National Guard and received basic training at Fort Benning, GA. He returned to South Bend and joined the local fire department and he began training to become an EMT. Upon completion of his training he was assigned to the Southwest Central Fire Territory. For the next five years he would pull double duty serving as an EMT full-time and as a member of the Indiana Army National Guard.
 
One night he responded to a fire near his home. That night he had a life changing injury that paralyzed him from the waist down. He was just 23 years old at the time.
 
The months that followed at the Rehabilitation Hospital were spent adjusting to his new reality. Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress quickly set in. To ease his pain, he had a constant supply of Oxycontin.
 
Drugs and alcohol often provide an escape from reality for those with a bleak prognosis. As often happens, however, he developed an addiction and he eventually turned to Heroin. He admits that on a number of occasions the depression, PTSD, and pain became too much and tried to commit suicide. This battle raged for 9 ½ years and he watched one friend after another succumb to drug overdoses.
 
By June of 2015 he had decided he HAD to get sober. His ex-girlfriend’s parents offered to help him overcome his addiction by offering him a drug-free environment in their home in Charleston, SC.
 
In June 2016 he celebrated one year of sobriety, but the lack of a social life made him very depressed. It was at that critical time that his brother came for a visit. One day they went to Seabrook Island and Josh steered the cart while his brother played. On one of the holes, his brother hit a gorgeous shot and, as time slowed down, Josh’s senses heightened. Memories immediately flooded back on why he loved to play golf. He also remembered all of the times he had picked up a golf club the past eleven years and dreamed about playing. It was then that he became determined to find a way to play the game again.
 
His timing could not have been better as only a few weeks before the PGA HOPE Charleston and Stand Up and Play Foundation fundraiser had raised enough money to provide a paramobile for Wescott Golf Club. It was literally an answer to his prayer and all he had to do to be able to use the paramobile was to be trained how to use it by Perry Green. Within days, however, both men suffered medical setbacks as Perry had a collapsed lung due to severe bronchitis and Josh broke his right foot.
 
When the fall sessions of PGA HOPE Charleston started in September he was finally ready to get back in the game. He was joined by David Bradbury, the Prosthetics Director of the Charleston VA, who is also a paraplegic. That first session the two men shared time in the paramobile and learned how to operate it properly. Following the training session they were able to gradually stand up in the device and begin hitting golf shots. For Josh, being able to stand up provided him with a whole new sense of freedom.
 
The next week Josh was invited to participate in a clinic by Anthony Netto at the Hardees National Meetings held in Savannah, GA. Netto, a paraplegic himself, is the founder of the Stand Up and Play Foundation. He was able to teach Josh a more effective grip that helped him hit the ball 20 yards farther and straighter off the tee. While at the event, Stand Up and Play Foundation surprised him by providing a paramobile for his personal use. Josh was humbled by the honor bestowed on him.
 
In the weeks that followed Josh’s life has been transformed as he has found a new passion in adaptive golf. He adds: “When I am upright, for that brief moment in time, I feel normal.“
 
Like many in the PGA HOPE Charleston program, he has also traded nightmares and flashbacks for golf dreams and new friendships. The game has become a healthy addiction.
 
His new purpose is to help expand the adaptive golf programs in the Lowcountry to include first responders and other members of the spinal cord injury community that can also benefit from golf therapy. Soon he will become a certified adaptive golf instructor and be able to help inspire and teach others to play the sport he loves, that he now credits for saving his life.
 
The next challenge he faces is being able to purchase a vehicle equipped with hand controls that will allow him to travel around the community with the paramobile. He is hoping that a local car dealership, or other sponsors, will want to sponsor the adaptive golf program. Such a vehicle would provide him with a level of independence that he has not experienced since his accident eleven years ago.
 
In August he will be competing in the ParaLong Drive Championship in Myrtle Beach, SC. His long-term goal is to represent the United States of America in the Paralympics if the sport of golf is added to the games.
 
Josh Swindle has a renewed sense of purpose that burns within him like it did when he was a firefighter. But now he is a man on a mission showing that the therapeutic nature of the game of golf can save lives too.