Golf is the cure: a story of hope, dedication and perseverance
If you were a hot young shooter on Bay Street back in the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s… and I know there’s still a bunch of you guys around… you might have known Bryan Nelson. It seems a lot of people did… if not personally, then by reputation. And if not by reputation as a very astute and successful manager of companies’ and peoples’ money, then as a hall of fame party guy.
“Ooooh. People were afraid to go out at night with my colleagues and me. It was going to be nasty!” he says. As in, fun will be had by all.
Bryan did well enough in a short enough period of time that he was able to basically call it a day around the age of 50, and spend his time in less intense pursuits… like raising his son and daughter, coaching their teams, being a good husband to Susan, serving on a few volunteer boards and committees, and dabbling in some venture capital things. We should all be so lucky, and so grounded.
“I stopped working when it stopped being fun. And it was good fun for a long time.”
Bryan also played some golf along the way. He never played enough to get really good at it, but was happy to be a steady 15 handicap. More than anything, he loved the camaraderie of the game. Score wasn’t important. Technique, meh.
As a kid, growing up in Winnipeg, and a member of St. Charles, he played quite often early in the mornings with a young assistant pro there by the name of George Knudson. George didn’t say much, just let his clubs do the talking, but Bryan remembers not only the guy’s talent, but also his ability to concentrate, to focus.
The ability to focus became a major component of Bryan’s life, too. But much later. And for a very different reason.
“I was up at our cottage, on my own. It was early June, seven years ago, and I was puttering around doing the usual pre-summer chores. Susan called me around dinner-time, and thought I sounded a bit weird. I don’t remember if she said anything to me about it, but she let it go. She called me the next morning, and definitely knew something was off.
“She got the son of some neighbours to come over and check up on me. He called her immediately and said I was completely disheveled and covered in bruises. The next thing I know, I’m strapped in an ambulance on my way down to Sunnybrook.”
It was not a fall that Bryan remembers, if it was a fall at all. It was not a stroke. It wasn’t home invaders. And it wasn’t alcohol (Bryan hadn’t touched a drop of booze of any kind in over 30 years.) It turned out to be an uncommon bleeding of blood vessels in the brain, that doctors even today have no name for. A brain operation fixed the problem. But the effects – short- and long-term – were very stroke-like.
There were balance issues, and cognition issues. Going through several weeks of recovery at Providence Healthcare in the east end of Toronto, Bryan saw fellow patients who’d had other-but-similar brain injuries, staring out the window, devoid of purpose, devoid of confidence, devoid of motivation. He was determined not to be the same.
“I knew I had to focus on getting better. I was never much of an exercise guy, but I knew I had to focus on the physical side. I’m not an intellectual, but I knew I had to get my brain working again. So I picked reading for the brain, and golf for the physical.”
Fortunately, the emotional side has never been a problem. I’ve known Bryan Nelson for nearly thirty years, and he’s one of those guys who you just know you’re gonna laugh with, when you see him. Always was, still is. There was never a lapse in his sense of humour, in his positive outlook, or in his ability to be thoroughly charming.
But the physical and the mental required some work. And while he would be the first to say he’s still a long way mentally from what he was before June 2011, the physical has come along quite nicely, thank you.
Bryan dedicated his physical recovery to golf, starting about five years ago. His first couple of games, when he was finally able to get out to the golf course, he shot in the 130s. That was enough to make him want to quit, right then, right there. But Katie, his daughter, told him not to, and if you knew Katie, you wouldn’t have, either. (For the record, Katie’s as supremely pretty as her mother, as determined as her father, and as smart as both of them. And that’s saying something.)
He spent the next couple of winters in the basement golf lab at Lambton. Summers were spent on the range, not so much the course. He worked with a trio of Lambton’s crackerjack team of professionals: Matthew Yustin, Ann Carroll, Steve Manock. They encouraged him, cajoled him, worked with him, supported him, and got the best out of him, gradually and patiently. He gives them full credit. He rebuilt his balance, built up his stamina, incorporated a new man-made knee, got rid of a shank, and focused, focused, focused.
“I had no goal other than to improve. To recover. That’s all, but it was a lot.”
The reason I’m writing this article is because Bryan beat his age this summer. Walked the course. At Lambton. 77, by a 78-year-old. His handicap is inching closer to single digit as the season ends. Over the past two seasons, he’s won his flight in Lambton’s Men’s Club Championship.
Matthew Yustin, the Club’s Director of Golf, says, “In more than 30 years in this business, I have never seen anyone with so much desire, perseverance, and dedication to shooting his age. It’s been so satisfying for us to have watched, and helped in our own small way. After what he went through to get here, this man is an inspiration!”
Most of us, approaching the same age, if not the same stage, of our lives, look forward with hope and uncertainty that we will ever shoot or beat our age. Will I shoot 77 at 78? Maybe 80 at 81? 93 at 94? I go to sleep many nights thinking about it.
Bryan Nelson, in spite of almost every odd against him, has done it. And what’s remarkable about it is, he doesn’t really care. He’s just happy to be out there.
Walking the course.