By Mathilda Andersson
Little over a decade ago James Gribble would have been identified as a successful investment banker, a keen sportsman and obsessive golfer with his whole life ahead of him. But his trajectory would take an unexpected turn in a freak accident during a visit to South Africa in 2008, which would later see him turn tragedy into triumph and start a social charity along the way.
After being out on a run in sweltering heat James fainted from dehydration and fell backwards off a stool onto hard sand, shattering his C4 & C5 vertebrae and damaging his spinal cord, rendering him a quadriplegic.
Following several months in hospital, the former athlete embarked on a long and intensive rehabilitation journey and was after four years of hard work able to get back into the swing of things, walking short distances with crutches, proving many doctors wrong.
“I started playing golf in my head already at the hospital after being told I would never walk again,” he said.
“I guess you make a decision very early on whether you’re going to lie there and take what you’ve got, or if you’re going to sit up and have a fight.”
The first time he hit a golf ball after the accident was in a park with his father.
“I stood up on my crutches, got dad to strap a club to my hand and made the swing. I was pretty unstable, but I made contact OK. That feeling of hitting it sweetly – yeah that was really something.”
His condition, however, made playing golf a tedious process when having to swing from a seated position in a conventional wheelchair. That’s when he discovered the ParaGolfer, an electric wheelchair allowing golfers to swing from an upright position. After having experienced the benefits of the all-terrain mobility device, Gribble aspired to make golf become more accessible to all individuals.
James founded Empower Golf in 2014 with a mission to facilitate and promote golf for Australians of all abilities. The foundation has since run over 200 free clinics across every State and Territory in Australia (and in New Zealand) as well as established 12 Empower Golf Hubs around the country, including clubs in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Gold Coast and Adelaide.
“Our aim at Empower Golf is to get more golf clubs in Australia to commit to becoming more disability-friendly,” said James.
“We wish to establish 30 golf courses around the country to work as hubs for monthly Come and Try clinics for people with all kinds of disabilities, providing them with the latest technology within disability golf.”
Each Hub are holding monthly Come and Try Golf clinics, free of charge for first-timers, to introduce new people to golf or reintroduce former players to the game they love after accident or illness. A ParaGolfer is available at every clinic, with the majority of Hubs having one stationed and available for hire or use.
Aligned with the charity’s mission to create opportunities for golfers at all levels of the game, last year Empower Golf ran their first two all-disabilities golf tournaments at Long Reef Golf Club in Sydney. The event marked the first truly multi-disability tournament open to all abilities held in Australia.
“The day was a significant milestone in Empower Golf’s story, that was reflected in the stories of many of our players,” it said on the charity’s website about the tournament. ”We have been proud to have shared the golfing journey of some of our players and their families from their very first hit of a golf ball to their first tournament.”
Now, over ten years after his accident, James is still seeking new ways to reach out and help other less abled bodies through the events of his own accident and the power of his extraordinary attitude, and his own charitable initiatives.
Read full article in GIC Summer e-magazine