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Courage Center offers sporting options

Finding golf was a blessing for Nettie Bothwell of Duluth. Multiple Sclerosis had taken softball, hockey and umpiring from her, and she needed a replacement. She attended a Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute golf clinic for the physically disa...

Finding golf was a blessing for Nettie Bothwell of Duluth.

Multiple Sclerosis had taken softball, hockey and umpiring from her, and she needed a replacement.

She attended a Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute golf clinic for the physically disabled in Duluth five years ago and has stayed with the sport through Courage Center-Duluth, a nonprofit rehabilitation and resource center.

"Sports were such a big part of my life and I didn't want to give that up. When I couldn't participate, there was a lot of depression for me,'' said Bothwell, who grew up in Virginia. "I never thought I'd play golf, but I found I liked it. The biggest thing [in coping with Multiple Sclerosis] was getting me out of my depression and golf did that.''

Bothwell, 48, a former chemical dependency counselor who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1982 during her junior year at St. Scholastica, has been playing in weekly Courage Center-Duluth golf events for four years, renting a motorized cart for nine holes. She played her first 18-hole round Saturday at Nemadji Golf Course in Superior using an aid for the physically disabled -- a single-rider cart.

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A single-rider cart provides for one-hand steering and control, and automatic brakes, and has a 360-degree swivel seat, allowing the golfer to hit from the cart while seated. The seat can also raise the golfer to a standing position and can go on greens and into bunkers.

"One of the main things with MS is the fatigue factor. You don't want to overdo it,'' Bothwell said about her chronic illness that affects the nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the central nervous system. "In using a regular golf cart, it's like getting in and out of a car for me. It's fatiguing. The single-rider cart was a great help. It took the pressure off my knees. I didn't get as tired.''

Saturday's event, sponsored by Courage Center-Duluth, was attended by able-bodied and physically disabled golfers in order to raise awareness about the carts.

Courage Center-Duluth has two carts - one donated by former Duluth banker Fred Lewis and another financed by a grant from the U.S. Golf Association. Both were purchased this year and have been available to the public at Nemadji Golf Course.

"Our hope with these carts is that golfers who have given up the game because of a disability will come back to the game, or find the game for the first time,'' said Eric Larson, director of Courage Center-Duluth.

The Physically Limited Golfers Association, which has served golfers in the Midwest since 1984, started in Duluth with the help of Jim Listerud, who contracted polio at age 10. The organization sponsors about five tournaments a year, usually with 10-20 participants.

John Ross of Maple Plain, Minn., executive director of the Physically Limited Golfers Association, hopes to see more public courses offer single-rider carts for use. Braemar Golf Course in Edina, Minn., home to the Sister Kenny Golf League, is one of only a handful of courses in the state to do so.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, new public courses are required to be accessible to the physically disabled. ADA Accessibility Guidelines have been issued by an Access Board.

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"It would be great if all city-owned courses had these carts,'' said Ross. "There have been a few lawsuits involving disabled golfers and golf courses, asking to make the courses more accessible, and the golfer has won every case.''

Getting public courses to lease one or two single-rider carts, and then publicize their availability, is what Larson and Ross are advocating, allowing those with limitations such as paraplegia, amputation, strokes, polio and cerebral palsy to participate.

The two single-rider carts at Nemadji Golf Course were purchased from Mitch Oliver's Golf Xpress in Standish, Mich.

Oliver was looking for a product to manufacture in his small machine shop four years ago and bought a company which made single-rider carts. It changed his life. He's become an advocate for the disabled.

"I was thinking of a way to make a living and now I'm thinking of ways to help people,'' said Oliver. "We're reactive to people's needs.''

Oliver, 46, says the business of providing for the physically disabled is in its infancy in many areas and figures single-rider carts have been available only for the past 15 years. His company sold all 50 carts it produced this year and expects to make 100 in 2008.

The standard Golf Xpress single-rider cart weighs about 450 pounds with a speed of 8-9 mph and costs $5,600.

The majority of sales are to groups like Courage Center-Duluth.

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Oliver, who is a golfer, also sees the single-rider cart as an aid to the baby boom generation which has golf enthusiasts going through knee and hip replacements. Carts also being used by hunters, gardeners, those playing horseshoes and by folks taking their trash to the curb, said Oliver.

A disabled golfer from Albany, N.Y., using a Golf Xpress cart, has had two holes-in-one, said Oliver.

A Golf Xpress cart was also shown in two episodes of the since-cancelled CBS series "Joan of Arcadia'' in 2004, used by Jason Ritter, whose character was disabled.

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