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PHOTOS: PGA TOUR Wives art party, plane dedication event at FedEx St. Jude Classic

June 9, 2016

By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff

On Wednesday afternoon, Jeff Overton walked from the St. Jude hospitality tent at TPC Southwind the long width of the range toward the clubhouse. It was hot and the various colors of paint covering the length of his right arm had converged into an unsightly mess and started slipping off his fingertips in drops.

“God, it breaks my heart to see those kids so sick and fighting for their lives,” he said to no-one in particular, paying no mind to the technicolor trail he was leaving. “But, they all seem so strong.”

The strong kids had painted his arm at the PGA TOUR Wives Association’s Art Party. The strong kids laughed with every stroke of their brushes. The strong kids were patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

They were strong, but Overton was lucky. He was able to wash away his unsightly mess with cool water and be good as new.

Not so for the patients at St. Jude. Their unsightly mess is in them. It’s in their blood, bones and brain. That’s an inconvenience much harder to rid one’s body of.

With its art party at this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, the PGA TOUR Wives Association gave these patients the opportunity to give color to the black and white reality they and their families face.

Members from the Association were joined by a number of PGA TOUR players to help elevate the vibrancy of life, regardless of the obstacles some face along the way through their life.       

“I truly believe this is one of the most special days we have during the course of the calendar year,” said Richard Shadyac, CEO of ALSAC, the awareness and fundraising organization of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “Art is such an important part of what we do at St. Jude. It’s an opportunity for kids to express themselves. But also, it’s an opportunity for kids to be kids. They get to be on the course with the pros. They get to help caddie and even putt and chip. So many of these kids come up to me and say this is a day they will never forget for the rest of their lives.”

Caleb Waddell has been a patient at St. Jude for 14 of the 15 years he has been on earth. Born with a rare, progressive disease known as Hurler syndrome – a  disease which affects every organ in the body –  Caleb sat at a table during the party Wednesday, transfixed by the task at hand of painting the perfect picture. His focus was broken only by the occasional glance around for his mom, Kelly. Their eyes always met. They always smiled. 

“Caleb has been to the FedEx St. Jude Classic every year since 2009,” said Kelly. “It’s just awesome how the PGA TOUR players and their wives take time out to actually talk the kids and get to know them. It means everything to these kids and their families.

Though there is no cure for Hurler syndrome, St. Jude performed a bone marrow transplant on Jacob when he was just 18 months old. The best doctors could hope for was to slow the degeneration process done. The transplant was a success.

“To get them out of the hospital and away from medicine and treatment to help them forget about their treatment and feel a lot more normal is what this is all about,” said Emily Clark, Registered Nurse at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “They start talking to me about this day three months ahead of time. And, they will be talking about it for the next month. So, it’s an absolutely incredible day for them.”

Tyler West, age 10, was diagnosed with Acute Lympho Leukemia (ALL) in 2013. West completed treatment in 2015 and is in remission.

“It’s such a special relationship these kids have developed with the players,” said Tyler’s mother, Michelle West. “He laughs and play and acts silly and the golfers respond to that so well. So, this is just something so special. One day, he is going through treatment and chemo and then this day arrives, where he is laughing and cutting up with golfers. It’s really special. Two years ago, Ben Crane visited the hospital and Tyler told him he was going to win the tournament that week.”

With flying colors, Crane won.

“Things like this allow players and their wives to see it from a personal perspective and build that connection,” West added. “Sometimes, you’re on the outside looking in, which we’ve all done, but they get the connection and get to spend time with the child they are directly helping. So, the golfers get to see who they are working for, who they are speaking on behalf of.”

While there are no delusions over some realities involving deadly diseases, the bouquets of hope extend strength and color to the here and now. And, with hope, no matter its length, a life never goes unlived or any less significant.  

“It’s tough for these kids being in a hospital day in and day out. Some of them are fighting for their lives, while others are doing better,” said PGA TOUR player Will MacKenzie. “Coming out here to hang with us is a good experience, but it is really moves us. It breaks you down inside. It’s a day of reality when you don’t think of anything else. You’re just in the moment with these kids. They start talking to you and telling you about their lives and it’s just not something you ever forget.”

Dating to 2012, FedEx has dedicated a FedEx Express aircraft at the FedEx St. Jude Classic to honor a St. Jude patient who is also the son or daughter of a FedEx employee. This year’s Purple Eagle honoree, on site Wednesday for the unveiling of her name on the aircraft at TPC Southwind in front of a large crowd of family, friends, fans, media and other St. Jude patients, was 13-year-old Alyssa de Jong.

Alyssa’s battle with cancer began when she was six. After undergoing multiple surgeries at St. Jude, she now only visits the hospital for checkups. Through her entire ordeal, it was said, she never lost her strength, style and grace. She never colored out of the lines on the pages before her.  

“When I need to get my son a routine shot, I have to drag him there. But, when I tell Alyssa we have to go back to St. Jude for more appointments, she always goes with a smile on her face,” said Remco de jong, Alyssa’s father. “If you ever walk the halls of St. Jude, you don’t see a lot of sad faces. These are sick kids, but they all find the strength to keep from being sad.”    

“The two girls that painted my face were smiling and giggling and just living in that exact moment to where they had forgotten about everything else,” said Alicia Malnati, wife of TOUR member Peter. “All they were concerned with was whether my eyebrow needed to be a uni-brow in blue or yellow. That is what they were focused on. To have them let loose is what this is all about. And, to be a part of it is the least we could do.”

From day one, so many have been a part of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital painting. It’s a picture rich in both color and texture. And, many of the key strokes have been made by the FedEx St. Jude Classic. To date, more than $33 million has been provided to the hospital.   

“As a parent, it means more than they could ever know,” Michelle West said. “St. Jude has given us something that is priceless. To know that I was able to get him all the help he needed thanks to the support of the outside people, like the PGA TOUR, it has been amazing to us. It is personal. It is meaningful. It makes me smile, because I know that Tyler is happy.”

Happiness is also something that begins on the inside and always results in a smile on the outside. And more so than anything, smiles are everlasting. They are the images on the strong kids’ artwork. They converge, but never slip. They comprise the perfect painting.


READ MORE ABOUT: , FedEx St. Jude Classic , Youth/Children
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