When E.Q. Sylvester retired after 50 years of working in manufacturing, he was looking forward to spending his twilight years traveling, golfing and enjoying his grandchildren. Shortly after his official departure from business, his plan took an unpredicted turn and a serious infection caused him to lose three of his limbs.
Sylvester says that afterward the only thing that he could focus on was learning to develop his range of movement again with the use of prosthetics but he was grateful to still be alive and surrounded by his family. He did express a great deal of longing for his lifelong past time of playing golf, however and he grieved his dream to play the top fifty courses in the world when he had the time after retiring.
Learning to golf again with only one hand and no feet was no easy task for Sylvester but he was determined to keep trying and to return to his once well planned dream. He invested some effort into research to try to find out how he could adapt his game through special equipment such as clubs and mobility tools but found very little choice for disabled golfers. With necessity being the mother of invention, he formed a non-profit organization, the Freedom Golf Association, with a focus on providing the necessary resources for people with physical and cognitive disabilities to golf. Sylvester quotes statistics of one in five Americans suffering from some kind of disability which they must overcome in order to function in the same capacity as others, with golf as an example of one of these functions.
Sylvester used his business background to assist him in setting up the non-profit, finding that many of his skills were transferable to that environment. The non-profit has now provided golf instruction to over 180 disabled people, logging almost 700 hours of learning. The organization relies heavily on the support of volunteers including certified adaptive instructors although it does employ 3 part time staff. Because all of the instructional services are offered to users at no charge, fundraising is an essential part of the organizational structure. The non-profit also holds a golf classic annually as well as invitational tournaments open for free to the disabled users.
He says that it is because of the support that he has received from his own personal network and the business community that he is able to continue to offer adaptive golf service. The Rehabilitative Institute of Chicago is working closely with Freedom Golf Association to assist them in acquiring the necessary funding to continue operation.
As for a leisurely retirement, Sylvester says that his plan has taken quite a different direction. He is working harder now than he did in his first career but the passion he has behind it makes it far more enjoyable. He has had the opportunity to meet some of his golfing goals, however, and his grandchildren have joined “their bionic grandfather” on occasion on the fairways.
His plans are to continue to extend the reach of the FGA in the future and initiate chapters across the country. He is also lobbying for the inclusion of golf in the 2020 Paralympic Games. E.Q. Sylvester is a prime example of how one can turn a perceived tragic situation into an opportunity that not only improves one’s own life but serves the betterment of a far greater community than one even knew existed.