Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Doctors once thought Fred Gutierrez wouldn’t be able to get around without the use of a wheelchair, but he had other plans.
In 1996, Gutierrez was shot in the head. A .38 caliber bullet left a golf-sized hole in his brain and paralyzed the left side of his body.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time but God saved my life,” Gutierrez said. “I was supposed to be in the hospital a year-and-a-half but I only ended up being there six months. I was supposed to be in a wheelchair the rest of my life but I (told) my doctor I would be walking in three months.”
Paralysis on one side of the body is common in stroke patients. Like many of them, Gutierrez had to relearn how to talk. But he did, and with the help of a brace and therapy he taught himself how to walk again, though it was with a limp.
After he left the hospital in San Diego, he moved back to the Charleston area at the urging of his mother. He now lives in Moncks Corner and his rehabilitation is going well.
In fact, the rehab is going so well Gutierrez has decided to embark on a golf marathon. During the For the Glory of God Golf Marathon at Summerville Country Club Feb. 26, he was set to attempt to play 36 holes of golf, walking the entire way.
Gutierrez, who served on nuclear submarines as a member of the U.S. Navy from 1974 to 1978, planned to use the marathon as a fundraiser for the Gifting Warriors non-profit organization.
The goal of walking 36 holes is pretty ambitious considering he had to completely relearn how to play golf and a year ago walking eight holes was a challenge for him.
Gutierrez was a novice golfer prior to being shot so once his walking improved he started thinking about taking up the game again as a way to stay in shape. However, because of the Paralysis he had to switch from a left-handed swing with two arms to a right-handed swing with one. The gunshot also left him with only partial sight in his left eye so depth perception on the golf course presented challenges.
Luckily, he met Rich O’Brien one day at church. O’Brien, a former golf pro and college golf coach, had suffered severe injuries after being ejected from a golf cart and also had to relearn how to walk. The two hit it off and began having weekly golf outings.
With some guidance from his new friend, Gutierrez found ways to steadily improve his game and along the way increased his stamina to the point where walking 22 holes wasn’t a problem.
He has seen tremendous improvement in both his walk and golf game over the last few months. He attributes it not only to the additional exercise, but also to a series of Botox injections that help his taut muscles relax, acupuncture treatments, and his faith.
“It takes a lot of will power, faith and strength to do the physical therapy but you can recover from things such as a stroke,” he said. “God will repair you if you have faith and believe in yourself. I praise and thank God for helping me come through this.”
Gutierrez went from being a golfer who was self conscious about what others on the course might think about him and who was always worried he was holding up golfers behind him to a confident golfer who moves at a pace some other golfers would have trouble keeping up with.
“When I first met him I wouldn’t have thought he could make it nine holes and look what he’s doing now,” Summerville Country Club owner/golf director Buford Blanton said. “He is a true inspiration to all our members. For him to be playing the caliber of golf he does is inspiring and he has such a great outlook on life. He always has a smile on his face and you can tell he is enjoying life.”
Gutierrez plans to keep working on his game until he gets good enough to compete against some of the top one-armed golfers in the world.
“My goal is to get into the one-armed tournaments and represent the U.S. against England and Canada. Those guys shoot in the low 60s and high 70s and I want to get to the point where I can challenge those guys. I golf for fun, but also with intention. I want to get better.”