Stroke Survivor Brad Thomas Returns To The Game He Loves And Calls His Therapy

Recently British Columbia Golf Writer Brad Ziemer, already a Golf Canada Distinguished Service Award recipient, received another accolade with an award from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada for his feature story last year on stroke survivor Brad Thomas who took part in the inaugural All Abilities Championship of BC. We are reposting the story here to recognize the accomplishments of both Brads, well done gentlemen - ed.

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

It was Jan. 22, 2014 and Brad Thomas was at home, chatting on the telephone, when he suddenly felt a strange sensation.

“It just came out of nowhere,” Thomas says. “I had a really weird feeling, like pins and needles, that went right up my body. Then 15 seconds later, I was unconscious on the floor.”

Thomas’s life changed forever that day, a month before his 60th birthday. The massive stroke he suffered should have killed him, doctors have told him.

“My neurologist said it was unsurvivable,” Thomas says. “She calls me a miracle to this very day. I was not supposed to live, I was not supposed to walk. And I have done them all, only because of my desire.”

Thomas is well known in the British Columbia golf community. For many years he was PING’s B.C. rep. He has lots of friends and credits them with helping immensely in his recovery.

Part of that recovery has been getting back on the golf course. Thomas has been a member at Capilano Golf & Country Club in West Vancouver for 54 years, back to his junior days. He won both the junior and senior club championships at Capilano and credits many of the members there with helping him get back to the game that has been such a big part of his life.

It’s not easy. Thomas’s left side remains paralysed so he golfs with his right arm. Retaining his balance during his swing is a challenge. “Golf is my therapy,” Thomas says.

“I have played golf all my life, so I went back up there (to Capilano) and just learned to play with one arm. I just take the club back with my right arm and I just try to stay vertical. I fall quite a bit, but I am doing that less and less. When I started, I fell a lot.”

When that happens, Thomas just does what he has been doing for the past nine-plus years. He climbs back up and tries again. “I played with a fellow last week at Cap and he said, 'I have so much admiration for you,'” Thomas says. “'You are so inspiring.' It is nice to inspire people. I try to inspire and I try to engage people. I have so many wonderful people in my life. The members at Cap are fantastic.”

Thomas is playing in this week’s inaugural British Columbia All Abilities Championship at McCleery Golf Course in Vancouver. He acknowledged having some first-tee butterflies before beginning his first round. Thomas obviously is not the golfer he once was, but he has his moments. “I try to play bogey golf,” he says.

“I have made lots of birdies and pars. Last week, I played at Cap and parred three in a row, No.s 4, 5 and 6, so that pleased me. But I haven’t been playing the ball on the ground. I have been teeing it up everywhere. I have just started trying to learn to play it down off the ground because of this tournament. I am not very good at that. It’s really hard.”

Hard doesn’t begin to describe the challenges Thomas has had to overcome during his recovery.

He spent eight months in hospital, bed-ridden, after his stroke. That was followed by a lengthy stay at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver where Thomas’s steely determination to walk again was often on display. “I was frustrated because they weren’t teaching me how to walk because they said I wasn’t ready,” Thomas says.

“One day, I went over to the parallel bars and just pulled myself up and I walked holding on to the parallel bar. And then I just put my hand out to a walker and I started to walk with the walker. Of course everybody went crazy at GF Strong because I wasn’t supposed to be doing that. They all freaked out and I said, ‘just relax, I am doing it.’ I spent the last few weeks there using the walker. I fell quite a few times, so they weren’t happy about that.”

Thomas credits his athletic background with helping him in his recovery. Growing up in the West Point Grey neighbourhood of Vancouver, Thomas played several sports. “Baseball, soccer, rugby, golf, sports has been my life,” Thomas says. “Being competitive has helped. The mindset of an athlete is completely different than maybe someone who hasn’t had that exposure to sports and don’t have that competitive nature.”

Of course, there have been dark days for Thomas, especially early on in his recovery. “At GF Strong, sitting out in the courtyard some days, I would look out and wonder what in the heck has happened to me,” he says. “There were some very dark days. It’s all about attitude and a commitment to not give in. I decided very early I would never stop fighting and I would be defiant in my efforts and that’s what it takes.

"I am still defiant to this very day. The doctors told me I would never walk again, but they didn’t know who they were dealing with.”

Thomas is quick to note that he has had so much support over the past nine years. His former employer, PING, and most notably PING Canada general manager Dave Wilson, has been a good friend. A year after his stroke, a large group of friends held a one-day fundraising tournament for Thomas at Big Sky in Pemberton and raised $65,000. A trust fund was set up for Thomas to help with medical expenses.

“Family support has been incredible.” Thomas says. “I have five brothers and sisters, I have had so many friends all my life, it’s just the kind of guy I am. I was in the golf business and I knew all the people around B.C. I was very gregarious, always interested in people. I have had great support, unbelievable support, from my family and friends and that is what helps.”

Thomas’s motto in life is simple. Do your best and never give up. “That is my focus every day. If I can do the best that I can and don’t give in, there is improvement available. I knew what I had to do and I kept pushing the envelope to get where I am today. So it’s been a journey, but I am so blessed to be alive, really. I can’t have a bad day.”