When Russell Spencer had a spinal stroke in 2018, one of the hardest things he had to face was the idea that he might never play golf again. But, happily, the Gladstone resident is back on the green, doing what he loves most. And it’s all thanks to the NDIS – Russell’s believed to be the first person in Australia to receive NDIS funding for a golf buggy and trailer.
Russell’s passion for golf first started around 40 years ago, when a work colleague invited him to a round.
“Of course I was terrible at first, but I instantly fell in love with the game, the challenges, the camaraderie and the fun you have,” he reflects.
After his stroke Russell was told he might not be able to walk again, but fortunately he soon began to experience some movement in his legs, ankles and toes. He slowly progressed with the help of his physiotherapist and was finally discharged after spending 100 days in hospital. By this time, he was using a wheelie walker and could stand and walk unaided for short distances. However he was still uncertain if he’d ever be able to return to the golf course. But then one day his brother, also an avid golfer, asked Russell if he’d like to join him on a round.
“It was great to just get out on the course in the buggy,” says Russell.
Realising a spinal stroke had done nothing to diminish his love for the game, he bought a putter and a ball, and got to work.
“I was able to develop techniques to suit my limitations, such as my balance,” he explains. “By the middle of June 2019, I was playing my first full 18 holes.”
The only issue was the amount of ground players have to cover on the golf course during a typical round of golf: on average, around eight to 10 kilometres.
“There’s just no way I can manage that distance,” says Russell. “I can walk about 400 metres on a treadmill, but free-walking I can only walk about 200 or 250 metres, so I was flat out walking to one hole.”
A golf buggy was the only option, but when you play golf three or four times a week, the hire costs quickly put this out of Russell’s financial reach. Without a buggy, Russell was simply unable to continue with the game that he loves – and so he decided to explore the possibility of purchasing a golf buggy as part of his NDIS plan.
“Because I’m limited in what I can do, golf is a big part of my life – without it, I’d just be sitting at home all the time,” he says. “The NDIS is all about supporting people with disabilities to pursue their activities as much as possible, including sport and recreation, so I thought I’d give it a try,” he says.
Russell’s request to purchase a golf buggy from his NDIS funding was denied twice initially, both in his plan and a subsequent review, before he applied to have his case heard at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). During this time Spinal Life’s Rockhampton team – Client Service Officer Kerrin-Lea Smith and Occupational Therapist Margaret Henry – supported Russell with advocacy and by sharing their expertise and advice.
After nine months of endless meetings, reports, a personal impact statement and documentation from not only Margaret but also Russell’s GP and physiotherapist, his request was finally approved. He received his golf buggy and trailer in October 2020, with funding for maintenance, insurance and registration included.
“Spinal Life were absolutely brilliant,” says Russell. “I can never thank Kerrin and Margaret enough for the support they gave me, doing up reports and attending teleconferences with the AAT. They went far above and beyond anything I expected.”
“I’ve shared my story to encourage people to keep trying. You never know what you can achieve, so please don’t give up.”