A near-death experience changed one man's life — and inspired him to help thousands of other people with disabilities find joy through golf.
Edmund "EQ" Sylvester was a successful businessman for many years, traveling the world, working for General Electric, and eventually setting off on his own. "I started my own business and took it from $3 to $31 million in 15 years," he says.
But in May of 2011, just as he had retired and was about to spend his last years relaxing with his favorite hobbies, golf and photography, life threw him a curve ball.
"I nearly died from a result of an infection of the kidney … which turned into sepsis, a major body infection," he says. "Twelve surgeries and after 10 months in hospitals and rehabilitation, I was left as a triple amputee."
Sylvester set out to figure out what he could do with his new body. He tried horseback riding, swimming, and then golf. He had been a passionate golfer before his infection, but he found he now couldn't hit the ball out of his shadow.
"I have to maintain balance without any feet. I have to keep turning to get enough power, and then I'm fighting a prosthetic," he says. "Where I hold the club in my hand hurts."
His formerly 90 mph swing speed went down to 4 mph.
Today, with practice, Sylvester's swing speed is back up to about half his former speed, and he's hitting his five wood over 100 yards.
Sylvester found the game therapeutic. It helped his overall confidence off the course, too. The positive impact it had on him led him to begin researching. He discovered that, of the 57 million disabled people in the world, many of them veterans, 18 million would like to play golf but don't have access to instruction or don't feel welcome at golf courses.
He made changing that his goal.
"I had a new mission in life," he says. "I started the Freedom Golf Association to help the disabled and special-needs learn a sense of freedom through the game of golf."
The FGA does everything from organizing golf tournaments for the disabled to working with courses across the U.S. to make them more accessible.
This year, FGA will help more than 2,000 disabled golfers on the links.
And Sylvester hasn't stopped there. At the age of 77, he's determined to make golf a sport in the Paralympics.
"It's a long and complicated process, but we are going through all the tedious tasks to qualify. If we don't qualify for 2020, we'll certainly qualify for 2024," he says.
Despite a full life and a successful business career, Sylvester says this endeavor has been the most rewarding.
"I have never worked harder or enjoyed it more in my life," he says. "The impact that golf has had on some of the disabled is totally heartwarming, and for me it's one of the best things I've ever done."