Gregory Remains an Inspiration
January 31, 2012
By Bruce Berlet, CTGolfer.com
This article originally appeared on Bruce Berlet's golf blog seen here.
D.J Gregory continues to amaze those he comes into contact with - and many who only know him from the many stories written about someone who has never allowed cerebral palsy to stop him.
And the 34-year-old Gregory continued to show his support for the First Tee of Connecticut in a major way on Tuesday, when he made a $30,000 donation from the Walking For Kids Foundation that he established in 2009.
Gregory, who has walked every hole of every PGA Tour event since the start of the 2008 season with a cane, some pain and a smile, made a $26,000 donation a year ago and then played an inspirational round in the Travelers Championship's Tournament Players Pro-Am at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
Gregory announced four more charitable donations Tuesday, with The First Tee of Connecticut again being among those to receive the highest amount of the $93,000 total. He also donated $30,000 to United Cerebral Palsy of Central Florida and the Wounded Warriors Project and $3,000 to the Cal-State Fullerton women's golf team to help needy children.
"My foundation has always said The First Tee and United Cerebral Palsy will always be one of the beneficiaries every year," Gregory said at a reception honoring him and his foundation at Dish Restaurant in Hartford. "But the first two years we've chosen The First Tee of Connecticut because of what they instill in kids, what they teach kids, what they embody as a whole and the different values that The First Tee stands for.
"The mission of our foundation is to help kids achieve their goals and dreams one step at a time, and I really believe that The First Tee really embodies the mission of my foundation."
David Polk, TFTCT's president and executive director, reiterated his and the organization's appreciation for what Gregory has done in helping reach the $2 million goal needed to build a learning center overlooking the four-hole "junior course" adjacent to the TPC River Highlands' state-of-the-art practice facility that opened in 2010. Construction on the learning center began in December, and Polk said most of it should be completed when the Travelers Championship is played June 21-24. The facility is scheduled to open in late August and will include a large main room, two classrooms, a kitchenette, four hitting bays that can be used at anytime, an indoor putting green and simulators on the first floor and offices on the second floor. The center, which is unique among First Tee facilities, will be opened up for big events or closed down for practicing and classroom work.
"D.J. is a heck of a generous guy, and we're very lucky to have him as a benefactor for the more than 46,000 youth that we serve," Polk said. "We have a lot of benefactors and a lot of friends and a lot of people who support us, but there's probably nobody that we appreciate as much as D.J. Gregory. And he has to be one of our favorite benefactors because he absolutely embodies what The First Tee is all about. He just exemplifies and personifies what perseverance is all about, and his generosity helps us be able to do annual programming and build the building. Without that, we wouldn't be able to do it, and it will be a golf headquarters for kids in Connecticut. Now we're trying our darnedest to get someone who might donate a simulator for us."
Before the luncheon ended, Polk surprised Gregory by announcing that one of The First Tee's nine core values (perseverance) that will be recognized with a banner hanging from the rafters of the learning center will be dedicated to Gregory and his foundation.
"It'll be hung like a retired shirt from the rafters of the XL Center," Polk said with a smile. "We're retiring his number, but we're not retiring D.J. It'll be a permanent recognition of his support of The First Tee and the assistance that enabled us to build the building. D.J. was very honored and very appreciative."
Gregory has been determined to march on since he was 2 years old and doctors told his parents their youngest of three children would never walk again because of cerebral palsy. Young D.J. quickly demonstrated he would have none of that talk. He initially got around by sliding with the use of his arms. As he grew, he learned to walk with two canes, and then one. Now, while visiting 45-50 PGA Tour events annually, Gregory covers more than 1,000 miles while walking nearly 3,500 holes, including playoffs and special events such as his season-ending Shark Shootout hosted by Hall of Famer Greg Norman, whose 88 wins worldwide include two British Opens and the 1995 Greater Hartford Open.
Gregory surpassed 200 tour stops earlier this year and flew 3,000 from San Diego to Connecticut on Monday to be on hand for his check presentation at the luncheon in his honor. He will leave Wednesday morning for the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Arizona, making it four weeks in a row that he has traveled cross-country for an obligation.
"It's what I do," Gregory said, "and I love what I do."
Gregory was previously in the Hartford area on New Year's Eve for the men's basketball game between Springfield College, his alma mater, and Roger Williams play in the Naismith Basketball Tournament. Then it was off to Hawaii for the season-opening Hyundai Tournaments of Champions at the Plantation Course in Kapalua, which remains the most difficult course for Gregory to walk because of its extremely hilly terrain.
"Without question it's the worst," Gregory said. "But it's the first week of the year, so once you get it out of the way, it's downhill after that."
Gregory hasn't returned to his home in Savannah, Ga., since he left for Connecticut at the end of 2011 and won't be back until a one-day visit the day after the Masters in April. But Gregory doesn't mind as his labor of love continues to be his No. 1 priority.
"I feel great, and I feel like I get stronger every day," Gregory said.
Gregory also lives for days like Tuesday, when one of his biggest fans, especially in Connecticut, came to the luncheon with his parents. Nine-year-old Cameron Ledford of Durham was at the restaurant with parents Jim and Tricia, who said how inspiring Gregory is for youngsters such as Cameron.
Cameron was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at six months old, but the fourth-grader at Korn School in Durham now has "a sport for every season," according to Tricia. He plays golf, soccer, basketball and recently tried snowboarding.
"Every year the challenges are different based on age and what he's doing," Tricia said. "We're lucky that he's in with a great group of kids who encourage him and keep an eye on him."
Cameron follows Gregory on his website, www.walkingforkids.org, and Tricia said meeting D.J. for the first time last year sparked the realization that Cameron was different.
"He thought every kid went for physical therapy and occupation therapy," Tricia said. "At the meeting with D.J. last year and attending a clinic over the summer for kids with limited use of their limbs, you could just see all of sudden it was like, 'Wow.' It was hard to watch, but it was also wonderful because it showed him that he could do anything."
Cameron again demonstrated his feelings for Gregory with a hug and words of thanks in his first visit with one of his heroes since the 2011 Travelers Championship.
So why does Cameron like D.J. so much?
"It's interesting that he plays golf with a cane," Cameron said. "I don't have a cane, but I do have a flabby hand."
Everyone within listening distance had to fight back tears, including yours truly.
Cameron plans to be at the Travelers Championship again this year to visit with Gregory and pro Ricky Barnes. Cameron and his parents followed Barnes the last two rounds last year, and when Barnes finished on Sunday, he tossed Cameron an autographed golf ball.
"He threw it, and I got it somehow," a smiling Cameron said proudly. "It was awesome."
So Barnes must be Cameron's favorite player, right? Wrong.
"Tiger (Woods) is my favorite," Cameron said. "He won last year (in the Chevron World Challenge in December) and almost won Sunday (in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship)."
Cameron then proudly displayed the Tiger Woods hat he had brought to the luncheon.
While Woods remains a question mark for the Travelers Championship, Gregory will be a certainty and hopes to play in a pro-am on Monday or Wednesday. He's undecided about which player he will follow during the tournament, won by Fredrik Jacobsen last year, when Gregory walked 36 holes a day with defending champion Bubba Watson and Glastonbury native and University of Hartford grad Tim Petrovic, both of whom donated to D.J.'s foundation.
Gregory visited the emerging learning center Monday and Tuesday before heading off to another worthwhile venture, his generosity never to be forgotten by those who help develop many of golf's emerging stars in Connecticut.
Thanks, D.J. You're a tremendous inspiration to everyone you touch and continued best of luck with your foundation.
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