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Coping on the green

  • A Crumpin-Fox Club golf ball used by Trevor Allenby during his trip to Ireland. Contributed photo/trevor allenby

  • Trevor Allenby tees off during his round at Rossapenna Old Tom Morris Links. Allenby, a two-tour Marine veteran, was injured in the line of duty and through Fairways to Freedom, found healing through the sport. Contributed photo/trevor allenby

  • Retired Marine Sergeant Trevor Allenby (right) poses along with ambassador Tim Van Epps at Portsalon Golf Club during the Fairways For Freedom trip. Contributed photo/trevor allenby

  • Allenby hits a picturesque shot at Narin & Portnoo Golf Club. Contributed photo/trevor allenby

  • Trevor Allenby gets a look at his lie in a bunker at Ballyliffen Golf Club during the Fairways For Freedom trip. Contributed photo/trevor allenby

  • Justin Phillips, left, Tim Van Epps, center, and Allenby at Rosapenna Old Tom Morris Links. Phillips and Allenby were in the Marines together and spent four years in the same platoon. Contrubited Photo/Trevor Allenby

  • Trevor Allenby teeing off at Rosapenna’s Old Tom Morris Course. Contributed photo/roger schiffman

  • Group of veterans and “ambassadors” pose in front of Ballyliffin Golf Club during a trip through Fairways to Freedom. Contributed photo/roger schiffman



Recorder Staff
Friday, November 10, 2017

Perhaps the reason that a golf course is Trevor Allenby’s favorite place to spend his free time is because it is about as far away from where he was in November 2005, when his life changed forever.

Hell, the Turners Falls native would have likely rather been almost anywhere else on the face of the earth than where he was at that time. The Marine sergeant was on his second tour of duty. His first tour came during the United States’ initial invasion of Baghdad, Iraq, and in 2005, he found himself stationed in Fallujah, Iraq.

Allenby would have preferred to have been on a golf course, a place he has known since he began playing the sport as an 8-year-old on local courses. But instead, he found himself out on patrol in a dangerous area. The vehicle he was in happened to stop in the middle of a Daisy Chain IED, or Improvised Explosive Device. The string of explosives was in the shape of a horseshoe, and when it exploded with Allenby’s vehicle in the middle, the retired sergeant had his arm resting outside of the turret. The explosion hit Allenby in the left arm, damaging it and leaving the arm paralyzed. Others in the vehicle were hurt even worse. Allenby admits that he is fortunate not to have died that day — or in days since. He later found out he also had a brain tumor, which he believes was likely caused during his time in Iraq.

Neither tour was anything like either of the two golf trips to Ireland that Allenby has now been on thanks to Fairways for Freedom, a nonprofit that was created by former Golf Digest editor Roger Schiffman five years ago. Allenby recently returned from his trip, along with his “ambassador” Tim Van Epps, the president and chief executive officer of Sandri Co. The impact it has had on his life after serving in combat has been remarkable.

Coping mechanism

Since the day of the explosion, life has not been easy for Allenby or his family — wife Lisa and 10-year-old son Cade. Allenby received the Purple Heart for his bravery and sacrifice and after surgery, began to rehab his arm, which suffered severe nerve damage. He still only has partial use of the arm, which was originally paralyzed.

“It was just dangling there,” Allenby said. “I didn’t have any use of my left arm for six months. I still don’t have use of my hand, so I pretty much golf one-handed. Thankfully, I’m a righty, and most of your golf comes from your right hand.”

Which, makes the fact that Allenby is a 12-handicap that much more incredible. A golfer’s handicap is used to measure that player’s ability, and anything under 18 is generally considered to signal a strong player. Allenby has also had to deal with the grade 2 diffuse astrochytoma brain tumor, which required brain surgery. He also suffers seizures, something he said is brought on by the stress he now deals with on a regular basis and requires constant medication.

It is the kind of stuff that leads many veterans to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, including at least one man who was in the vehicle with Allenby that day and has since taken his life. Allenby said he has been fortunate to find golf, because it is what he uses as a method of coping.

“Some (veterans) will use fishing as their relaxing, coping methods,” he said recently, as we sat in front of the fireplace at Zeke’s Bar & Grille at Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston, where Allenby spends most of his free time. “Guys will just go out there and fish and relax, or they read books, or sit in the corner and listen to music for a while. I use golf. That’s what I do to go away and relax.”

Allenby said that he had not played much golf when he originally enlisted, and was unable to play for a long time following his injury. At one point, he suddenly came to the realization that if he was going to ever get healthy again, he needed something.

“After all that happened, I really needed to get the hell out of the house,” he said. “I gained 70 pounds from all the steroids, I shrunk about two inches, and just needed to get away. My dad still had my old clubs in his garage, so one spring, I started to play again.

“I was God-awful when I first got back into it,” he continued. “I had to find a way to grip and hold the club. This past year, (Crumpin-Fox Club head golf pro) Jamie Ballard really helped me with my swing.”

Fairways for Freedom

Two years ago, while taking part in a program with the Salute Military Golf Association, a nonprofit that provides rehabilitative golf programs, experiences and other opportunities to post 9/11 wounded war veterans, Allenby learned about the Fairways for Freedom organization and he filled out an application. Shortly after, Allenby learned he had been selected as one of 12 wounded veterans to take part in the 2016 trip to northwest Ireland. It was an experience that would change his life.

The Fairways for Freedom program was the brainchild of Schiffman and his wife, Patricia Donnelly, PhD, who came up with the idea in 2012 while on an assignment for Linton Walsh, the chief executive officer of Golf Digest in Ireland.

“On that trip, we met some incredible veterans in Ireland,” he recalled. “People who were physically injured, missing an arm or leg, yet, they were using golf as part of their recovery. Once you played a round of golf, you found out about some of the serious injuries they were dealing with. A lot of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. Yet, they all had very positive attitudes. We said then that we needed to figure out a way to do more of these trips.”

Donnelly is a certified sports psychotherapist who was doing a lot of work with veterans at the time.

“One of the most important things that we’ve found is for them to be together,” Donnelly said of wounded veterans. “No one understands better than them what they’ve been through.”

Like Allenby, many other veterans were using golf to help aid in their recovery. Schiffman said that on that initial trip to Ireland, he was speaking with a veteran one evening who told him that without golf, he would have committed suicide. That moment changed Schiffman’s life and was, as he put it, his “aha moment.”

“We think golf is a great way to help injured veterans recover from injuries,” Schiffman said. “It gets them off the couch and outdoors doing something positive with their lives. Whether the goals are for them to get better, to get fresh air or to have social interactions with other people; it doesn’t matter, but golf is an avenue. That’s really perfect for injured veterans to assimilate back into society.”

In order to sponsor the veterans, Schiffman and Donnelly, who don’t take a salary themselves, like everyone else associated with the organization, came up with the idea to have “ambassadors,” who sponsor a veteran or two, and can also go on the trip. It’s a tax deduction, and can also have a lasting impact on the ambassador.

Van Epps said Sandri Company has owned Crumpin-Fox since 1987. He learned about the program when Ballard introduced him to Allenby.

Allenby had been on that first trip in 2016 and told Van Epps all about it. It was a no-brainer for Van Epps to sign on as an ambassador. It’s a decision that also changed his life.

“I donated money to sponsor a couple of veterans to go on the trip,” he said. “My role is to really go over and bond and get to know our veterans. I was really inspired and surprised by how these guys went through what they went through and are still with us. The resources they come back to aren’t the best, and I think we can do a better job.

“Something we need to do is raise better awareness of what these brave men and women of the Armed Forces have done for this country. When I go out on the golf course, I get frustrated sometimes, and to see these men and women out there using this as therapy, it was really eye-opening and special.”

Van Epps has already been invited back and signed on to serve as an ambassador for two trips in 2018.

‘Once-in-a-lifetime experience’

The trip that Van Epps and Allenby were part of featured 10 veterans from across the country. One of the ambassadors used his private jet to fly the veterans over, which Allenby said was quite a thrill. It landed in a small airport in Ireland, which Van Epps and Allenby said was not much bigger than the Turners Falls airport.

“It was awesome, a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “He was a billionaire, but he was just a regular guy.”

Once there, those involved spent eight days golfing at five prestigious courses in Ireland. The trip was made even more special for Allenby when one of the other veterans who was signed on had to back out last minute because of an emergency. Taking that person’s place was Allenby’s friend Justin Phillips, who was a platoon-mate of Allenby’s for four years, and was in the vehicle behind his when the roadside bomb exploded.

“It was great to see him — the last time I saw him was at our friend’s funeral,” Allenby said. “I knew him the entire time I was in.”

The two men said that each day started with a yoga session and sport mental sessions with Donnelly and guest psychologist Dr. David Joseph. The ambassadors and veterans would then hit the links for a day of golf, and conclude it with dinner.

The courses that the group played were all located in Donegal, Ireland, including: Sandy Hills Golf Course, Old Tom Morris Links, Ballyliffin Golf Club, Portsalon Golf Club and Narin and Portnoo Golf Club.

While the trip was about helping the veterans, Van Epps was overwhelmed several times. He said that he would go back to his room every night and reread the bios of the veterans. He was amazed that these men were able to overcome the obstacles that life had thrown at them.

“We were with guys on the trip who were in Walter Reed for two, two-and-a-half years,” Van Epps recalled. “Guys who had to learn to do literally everything again. Most of the guys were special ops. We had a Delta Force op, and had another guy who was the highest ranking NCO on a Navy Seal Team. These men were so positive, and the humor on this trip, it was just so much fun.”

Fairways for Freedom is continuing to grow, offering more trips overseas next year, as well as retreats in the United States. One may be coming to Crumpin-Fox next year, and Van Epps said, at the very least, the course will hold a fundraiser for the program some time next spring. That is great news for veterans like Allenby.

“I told my wife when I got back after the first trip that marrying her, watching Cade be born and going on this trip — that’s the top three things in my life,” Allenby said. “It was just awesome. The time of my life.”

After all that these men and women have sacrificed, it’s nice to know that the game of golf, something that can be so cruel to so many players, can be so comforting.

For more information on Fairways for Freedom, visit: www.fairwaysforfreedom.us.