JOHANNESBURG - “Thank you so much for losing your leg,” Lily Reich said to her husband Trevor five or so years ago when the South African Disabled Golf Association’s First Swing Programme was still in its infancy.

Trevor just smiled and nodded in agreement, because - crazy as it may sound - it was a boating accident at the Western Cape’s Clanwilliam Dam 18 years back which led to his left leg being amputated, that was the start of an amazing journey which today is making a difference in the lives of many children with disabilities throughout South Africa.

After going through rehab, golf nut Trevor met Eugene Vorster - a man with a lot of heart who ran disabled golf in this country for many years - and started taking part in SADGA tournaments.

Trevor suggested that his wife might like to help with the admin side of the organisation and, although already having to look after the couple’s own little ones at the time, Lily was still happy to oblige.

A few years down the line and The First Swing Programme (FSP) is an extraordinary initiative operating at 35 schools for children with disabilities, and focuses not only on golf but on rehabilitation through the game as well.

It’s all about the therapeutic, social and psychological development of these children, many from extremely dysfunctional backgrounds, where parents are sometimes non-supportive and from crime-ridden areas.

The FSP operates on five levels, with Level 1 for severely disabled youngsters who cannot leave their school to partake in sport, so SADGA brings sport to them by setting up modified golf environments in school halls using brightly coloured balls, clubs and flagsticks made from velcro.

At the other extreme, Level 5 is for talented golfers who in spite of their disabilities have single-figure SA Golf Association handicaps and compete nationally and internationally - like in the SA Disabled Open at King David Mowbray in Cape Town this week and which has golfers from 13 nations across the world taking part.

If Lily Reich, who is effectively the chief executive of the non-profit FSP initiative, is passionate about her work, so too is Andrew Corthing, who heads up the programme’s 21-person coaching team.

Andrew is a PGA professional who campaigned on the Sunshine Tour before concentrating on coaching, at club level and with the PGA before opening his own academy.

Then he started working with children with disabilities from Hope School in Westcliff, Johannesburg.

He soon realised that this is where his heart is, and today - although based in central Gauteng - he travels around the country on FSP assignments.

Four years ago there were 70 FSP children, today there are 1000 - that’s how successful it has been. “I’ve got three kids of my own, but I’ve also got 1000 others and they’re all very special to me,” says Andrew who always knew he had to get down to the same level as his disabled young friends.

So he learnt how to swing a golf club on one leg, or with one arm, or from a wheelchair, or with his ears blocked or his eyes closed. He knows how to identify with their needs.

He is a huge encouragement to the FSP youngsters and will do anything to make their lives better. He sees his job as enriching their lives physically, mentally, socially and whatever else.

“It’s amazing how much more flexible, mobile and stable a disabled person can be if you put in a bit of work with them - it not only helps their golf but their lives in general,” he says.

And Andrew’s a lot of fun too, pulling plenty of pranks which draw plenty of smiles from his family of children.

They call him the “Crazy Coach”. It was also crazy that Trevor losing his leg would lead to such good things.

It’s a crazy world sometimes. But a crazy world can also be a wonderful world, as the FSP initiative has proved.

The Star

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