Drawing Inspiration from One Another
By Ryan Anderson, Special to Together, Anything's Possible
CARY, N.C. –Jason Roberts was part of the group that teamed with Champions Tour pro Eduardo Romero to win the Thursday morning pro-am at the SAS Championship presented by Bloomberg Businessweek on Sept. 23. What makes this particular victory so impressive is that it came just a little more than 13 months after Roberts, a 27-year old staff sergeant in the United States Marines Corps, suffered severe injuries to his left leg while serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
An improvised explosive device struck the truck Roberts was on Aug. 16, 2009. A golfer prior to being wounded in battle, Roberts turned again to the sport he loves during his physical therapy and rehabilitation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
“You can imagine, guys missing one, two legs, a hand or something like that can’t really go out and play football anymore,” said Roberts. “But they utilize golf because you’re out there, you’re on your prosthetic, you’re using your balance, you’re using your core, you’re still getting your physical therapy but it’s not a hospital-sterile environment. It’s an outdoor thing, so four or five hours later you don’t realize it, but you’ve done a great workout.”
It was in San Antonio that Roberts met a big supporter, Champions Tour pro Tim Simpson, who was one of the first people to congratulate Roberts on his pro-am victory. Simpson is competing in the SAS Championship this weekend and lobbied with tournament officials to get Roberts, who is stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., a spot in the week’s pro-am events.
“I took leave, and I came up here and it was mostly just to hang out with [Simpson], said Roberts. “He mentioned, ‘Oh I’m going to try to get you into the pro-am.’ And I was like, ‘No, don’t worry about it. I’ll follow you around and see what’s going on.’ A couple of the guys with the Tour were able to get me in and get me a slot. It was a phenomenal experience. I got to play with Eduardo Romero today and Bruce Fleisher yesterday. It’s great to be out here, and it’s an experience you won’t forget for the rest of your life.”
Simpson and Roberts have developed a strong bond and friendship since meeting in October 2009 at a Wounded Warriors Project pro-am event in San Antonio.
Roberts played in the pro-am while rehabbing in San Antonio. He had recently had his leg amputated after therapy to try to salvage the leg. Simpson was participating in the pro-am prior to playing in the AT&T Championship at Oak Hills Country Club.
“I still hadn’t gotten a prosthetic yet,” said Roberts. “I was about two weeks out of the hospital after I got my leg amputated. I played one-legged the whole day. I would kind of hop up to the tee box and hit the ball.”
Roberts and Simpson met during the awards ceremony following the conclusion of play. Simpson was drawn to Roberts after seeing the interaction between Roberts and his wife, Christina, as she helped him insert an antibiotic IV while still paying attention to the guest speaker, former PGA TOUR pro and current CBS Sports broadcaster David Feherty.
“I was on antibiotics through a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line, so while David Feherty was talking it was time for me to do my antibiotics and my wife is helping hook me up,” Roberts said. “Tim thought that was the most amazing thing ever that we didn’t even blink an eye hooking this all up. Afterwards he came up to me, wanted to talk to me and asked me if he could have my picture. It was just awesome that a man in his position as a professional athlete actually wanted my picture.”
A few days later, Roberts and Simpson met again, this time at the AT&T Championship. The two spoke to each other at the putting green prior to the start of Simpson’s Saturday round. Roberts, on crutches, followed Simpson throughout the day.
“He walked five miles,” Simpson said. “It’s a hilly course. Five miles up and down hill on crutches with no prosthesis on, both Saturday and Sunday. He walked with Leigh Anne, my wife, and Leigh Anne said his armpits (from the pressure of the crutches) looked like raw meat. He never complained. He wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Since that meeting, Roberts and Simpson have grown extremely close. Roberts and Christina joined Simpson and his family for Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and Simpson has visited Roberts at his home in Wilmington, N.C.
A strong supporter of American troops, Simpson traveled to Iraq in 2009 during the Thanksgiving holiday with a group that included fellow Champions Tour professionals Tom Watson and Corey Pavin. The group spent time entertaining troops stationed in different parts of the country. Simpson displays his support throughout the Champions Tour season as his golf bag features an American flag surrounded by the words “Support Our Troops” and the names of Roberts and Levi Rodgers, a Green Beret commander who Simpson also befriended in San Antonio.
“I’m a lucky man, and I’m blessed to have such an incredible young man as Jason as my friend,” said Simpson. “I have never one time heard him say anything negative. He’s never mentioned his accident, what happened to him, the eventual loss of his leg, what happened to his buddies in the same vehicle getting killed.
“He’s just positive,” Simpson continued. “It’s like we don’t worry about yesterday we take up and we keep going forward. It’s just a great lesson for all of us. When you have setbacks in life, like I’ve had with my career and my health or Jason, you’ve got to keep going. You can’t say, ‘woe is me.’”
The setbacks Simpson refers to have been tremendous hardships in their own right.
Simpson became a force on the PGA TOUR in the late 1980s and early 1990s despite a childhood accident that caused him to lose the majority of the flexibility in his left thumb. Known as one of the best ball strikers in the history of the game, Simpson finished sixth and eighth, respectively, on the PGA TOUR money list in 1989 and 1990, but in 1991, Simpson’s career was derailed after he developed severe neurological problems as the result of Lyme disease contracted while on a hunting trip.
“I hung on for about five more years,” Simpson said. “But I should’ve retired immediately. I retired in ’97 because I shook so bad I couldn’t play anymore.”
Simpson returned to professional golf after undergoing a surgery—known as deep-brain stimulation—in March 2005. Doctors implanted an electrode in his brain which is attached to a battery-operated neurostimulator in his upper chest that corrected the problem. He has competed on the Champions Tour since 2006 and posted five top-10 finishes on the Tour in 2008.
Simpson and Roberts receive inspiration from each other as Simpson has returned to success on the Champions Tour and Roberts has returned to an active lifestyle—playing golf, running, swimming and even sky diving.
“I’m flattered that he says I’m an inspiration to him because he certainly is to me,” said Simpson. “He is one in a million.”
As for that pro-am win at the SAS Championship, Roberts said he took the most satisfaction from showing his golf teacher that he’s a good student.
“It’s awesome mostly because I’ve been given good advice with golf,” said Roberts. “To come out here and show my swing coach I can use what he has taught me, I guess you could say it makes me feel good because it definitely makes him proud.”
Simpson believes the win means just a little bit more.
“It just says you can do anything.”
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