After months of talking with the organizers of the Electric Disc Connection event in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, today was FINALLY the day to meet several kids with epilepsy, along with their parents and grandparents, to introduce many of them to the sport of disc golf for the very first time. So, so cool…to have the opportunity to hopefully help introduce more people to the sport that Steady Ed created when I was the age that a few of those kids are. Wearing a Team DGA shirt. Throwing DGA plastic.
The event was a fundraising event for Epilepsy Alliance North Carolina, a group that helps adults and families with children that have epilepsy be able to afford the various medications, cooling vests and helmets that they need in order to live a higher quality of life. Epilepsy Alliance North Carolina also sends out lots of educational materials and speaks with groups all across the continent (even the world) in effort to help educate more people about epilepsy. And I would be remiss if I didn’t share the nation-wide toll-free Epilepsy Information Service phone number for people to access: 1-800-642-0500.
The event was also dedicated to the memory of Eli Kelliher, who had died as a result of complications from his having epilepsy back in July 2015. Who died doing what he loved (disc golfing), alone on a disc golf course, as the result of having a seizure while searching for a lost disc in a pond.
I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been alone on a disc golf course somewhere in the United States, Canada or a couple courses over in Europe. Doing what I do (racing around the courses as fast I can, adding a “+1” to my course collection). And while the seizures I had experienced prior to being diagnosed and medicated (no known seizures since September 2019) were mild? Only a bit of “zoning out,” blinking and swallowing? Mayo Clinic has always told me that bigger seizures are never out of the realm of possibility. And if I ever had a bigger seizure hundreds of miles away from home? Alone? Out in the wilderness or while swimming and/or enjoying the ocean? That could be it for me.
It makes me think about how precious life is. How lucky I’ve been in my 49 years on Earth, to get to enjoy the things I’ve enjoyed. And being middle-aged, I realize my responsibility to pay things forward to our next generations, as best I can.
It was funny, what the kids were teaching ME during that basic skills clinic. I started out by talking about some of the history of the sport, the different types of discs one plays with, the different grips or types of releases people will use, etc. But looking around at a few of those faces, I could tell that some of the kids felt like they were in school. AKA I needed to find a way to make it more fun. So I cut short the disc golf “lesson,” and we shifted into playing a game of “D-I-S-C.” Like playing “H-O-R-S-E” with a basketball, we took turns making different types of shots. If the person in line in front of us made their putt? We had to make the same putt, or we would get a “D.” If the person in front of us missed their putt? We could choose to attempt any type of shot we wanted to.
Folks started out pretty conservative. Attempting a 7-8 foot putt here, a 10-12 foot putt there. But the more we played? The more folks started smiling, laughing and attempting more and more crazy shots! 10-15 foot putts from their knees. Turbo putts. Free throws (holding the disc like a turbo putt, only making it flip end-over-end with an arc toward the basket, like shooting a basketball into a basket, etc. Though my favorite memory was one of the boys who participated. He was a little quiet, shy at first. But the more we played? The more he smiled, talked and laughed. And his favorite thing to do was to back up to about 40-50 feet away from the basket, to scare the people behind him in the order into thinking they were going to need to make a 40-50 foot putt too. 😀 He never made one of those long ones! But he enjoyed teasing the people behind him that he was going to make one.
The neat thing was that while we were playing, I was able to teach some of the exact same lessons I had hoped to teach before we played D-I-S-C. How to pick one link in one chain to try and hit with your putter. How you aren’t putting TO the basket, you are putting THROUGH the basket. How if you are right-handed, throwing backhand, your disc is spinning clockwise. And the further you are from the basket and/or the slower you throw your putt? The more your disc will turn to the left…making you want to aim just a bit further to the right of the center pole on the basket, the further away you are (and/or the slower you throw your putter).
Some of those kids had SKILLS too! Two of the girls in particular. They were banging twenty-foot putts with authority within 30-minutes of when we had started. Very cool to see. And a few of the kids asked if I could help them figure out courses close to their homes, since some of the kids had traveled more than an hour to be there. So I told them about the UDisc app, then showed them where the nearest courses were to their homes.
After that clinic was over, I enjoyed some conversation and lunch with Susan Ward and Pat Gibson. Pat is the Executive Director of Epilepsy Alliance North Carolina, and also teaches in the Department of Neurology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Susan also works with Epilepsy Alliance North Carolina, and was my main contact for the past several months while preparing for the event. And after lunch? It was time to try and “walk my talk” by playing MA40 in the tournament. 🙂
I honestly was nervous playing in the event, as I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Tired after having played a few hundred holes in the previous 72+ hours. Nursing a rib and sternum injury that has made my form on the tee a bit of a trainwreck of late, costing me at least 50-75 feet of distance (trying to protect myself from further injury). But whether I played good, bad or ugly? My score wasn’t the point.
I got placed on a card with three other great guys, which made the round a lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed the butt-kicking that Cooper Grogan (PDGA #126579) applied to me…beating me by three shots while nearly setting the course record. As a 13-year old, Cooper’s got SKILLS! I was Jekyl or Hyde with a putter in my hands, as I chunked three putts I had no business missing (don’t tell the kids I was just attempting to teach how to putt – sigh). But I hit all my fairways, stuck nearly all of my approach shots (to make up for some sketchy putting), and uncharacteristically made three putts from outside 35-45 feet. Which allowed me to win the MA40 division. So cool! As I was teasing folks that I can now say that I am undefeated playing sanctioned in North Carolina (1-for-1), ha! And that trophy will forever be on my shelf in my office…reminding me about a fun day, with great people, supporting a great cause.
Why we do what we do…
Magic Number = 376 (1,624 Courses Played)
How it All Got Started: Tonn’s Travels >>
A main purpose of this blog will be to share information, helpful tips and tricks (everything from health and fitness to methods for saving money while you’re out “bagging courses” of your own), and ideas for better, safer course design. But I am also hoping to inspire others with my passion for the sport, via the stories I can share about all of the interesting experiences I have. All of the interesting people I meet. All of the amazing courses I am blessed to have the opportunity to play. If I can inspire even a handful of individuals to get off the couch, get “out of their bubble” or “security blanket” and explore more of this big, beautiful planet we all call home? Then I will consider this effort a success.
Derek Tonn is a member of the DGA’s Ambassador Team. His company, Mapformation, LLC, has been DGA’s partner in the development of disc golf tee signage since 2012. The longer our two companies have worked together, and the more Derek has gotten to know all the great folks at DGA, the more he has wanted to formally sing the company’s praises. The more he has realized that “Steady” Ed the father of disc golf and the modern-day Frisbee vision for the sport and his company perfectly describes his own interests and priorities related to disc golf, and the more Derek has recently been encouraged to share his story.