Play golf to help heal our heroes

Play golf to help heal our heroes
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jacque Keeslar ​warms up on the driving range before the 2015 Operation Game On Golf Classic. Registration is ongoing for this year’s event Aug. 15 at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club. File photo by Bianca Kaplanek

RANCHO SANTA FE — A limited number of sponsorship and playing opportunities are still available to help heal our heroes during the ninth annual Operation Game On Golf Classic, which will be held Aug. 15 at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club.

Registration begins at 9 a.m. and will be followed by driving and putting practice, the presentation of colors at 10:15 a.m. and a shotgun start at 11:30 a.m.

Operation Game On was created in 2008 by Rancho Santa Fe resident Tony Perez to give returning combat-injured troops suffering from physical and mental disabilities a custom introduction-to-golf package.

Participating troops undergoing treatment at the Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton receive golf lessons from PGA-certified instructors and a professional fitting session at The Kingdom at TaylorMade Golf.

They also receive custom-fitted clubs, bags, shoes and gloves, as well as playing opportunities throughout the county at no cost to them, the hospital or the military.

Doctors, prosthetic specialists and counselors have found golf provides mental and physical rehabilitation that rapidly allows combat-injured troops to regain confidence and enjoy an active lifestyle again.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Rowena Darwin and Marine Cpl. Gabe Palacios have proven that to be true. Both have participated in the program for a little more than a year. Neither played the game much before that.

“Instead of me feeling insecure, it gives me a reason to get outside because I have to practice,” Darwin said. “I was in isolation. Now I play in tournaments and I’ve met people that are now my friends. They’re like family.

“Playing golf helps me concentrate and not think a lot about my stressors,” she added. “I find myself smiling. Just being outside changes my mood. I’m not inside thinking about things I don’t want to think about.”

Darwin has since started playing tennis and sailing and will compete in a regatta in New York. She also advocates for Operation Game On.

“I’ve shared it with so many people and they’re enjoying it,” she said. “It’s amazing how they’ve transformed themselves.”

“This is one of the biggest things that’s ever happened to me,” Palacios said. “It’s helped me socially by leaps and bounds. … It does exactly what Tony wanted people to do.

“It gets me out of the house and keeps me physically active,” he added. “I’m not one to sit at a bar and meet other vets. With golf I’m socializing with people, which I don’t usually do under normal circumstances.”

Darwin and Palacios have nothing but praise for Perez.

“He finds vets who are lost like I was and makes sure they get out there,” Darwin said. “He’s changed me a lot.”

“Tony’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever met,” Palacios said. “He selflessly volunteers his time. His intentions are pure.

He wants to help folks like me get back in the world. I love him like a brother.”

The golf tournament, Operation Game On’s main fundraiser, includes food and grog throughout the day, which ends with cocktails, a dinner buffet, a silent auction and raffle, awards and guest speakers beginning at 4:30 p.m.

The cost is $350 per player, which includes the after-party events. A $10,000 sponsorship is available, as are opportunities to pay for a foursome of troops to play.

Visit operationgameon.org or contact Perez at (619) 997-0773 or pgapop@gmail.com to register or for                                        more information.

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