Veteran thrives despite visual impairment

Submitted photoJack Collins, Metamora, chips onto the green at last month's TEE Tournament in Iowa. The legally blind veteran has distinguished himself since taking up the sport 12 years ago.

Don't tell Jack Collins he can't do something.

Around 2002, the 73-year-old Metamora resident's vision began succumbing to macular degeneration. Then, consider a struggle with hearing loss, a 12-year battle against cancer, quadruple bypass surgery in 2013, and last year's complete shoulder reconstruction. It's a wonder Collins even leaves his home.

But none of that keeps the U.S. Army veteran down.

In late August, at Hermitage Golf Course (General's retreat) in Nashville, Tennessee, Collins finished as runner-up in the United States Blind Golf Association National Championship. He played 72 holes in four days, was 34 over and lost in a tiebreaker.

The award-winning poet best describes his attitude in his poem "You Can."

If you think you can, however impossible it may seem

If you stay positive, you can achieve that dream.

If you think you can't, no matter how hard you try

It will defeat you by and by

From the depths of the desert and over the dunes

If you think you can, you can walk on the moon

So stay positive in everything you do

It will blow you away, through and through.

Already an accomplished bowler and horseshoe thrower, in September 2007, Collins wanted to settle into something not as strenuous.

"I had played softball all my life, but had never tried golf," said the father of six. "Now I practice every day, hitting balls right here in my front yard. The ones I can't find, my grandkids help me find."

Needless to say, the nuances of golf and repeatable swings are hard to master for anyone with limited eyesight.

"It's all about muscle memory," said Collins, who last week celebrated his 52nd wedding anniversary with wife Mary Ann. "It's real challenging and I'm still learning. But if you have one bad ball, you'd better back off ... you can't let it bother you."

Over the years, he's received regular lessons from golf professionals in the Hamilton County (Ohio) Parks District. At the USBGA championship, he was coached by Craig Templeton.

"In order to compete, you have to have a coach and caddy," he said. "You play PGA rules and the coach lines you up to tell you where to hit the ball."

His golfing adventures – and some misadventures – inspired Collins to pen a poem entitled "Blind Golf."

I'm visually impaired and that is a fact

I get on the tee and hit the ball with a whack

Where it goes, I do not know

I search the fairways, high and low

If I find it and I usually don't

I just drop another, right where I want

Score doesn't mean much when I get in the flow,

As long as the last ball I hit goes in the little hole

I may not win a major or play in the sun

But I will play my heart out and have a lot of fun.

Collins enlisted in the Army at age 17, and in 1962 became the youngest G.I. to participate in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was later stationed in Germany, then served in Army Intelligence until his discharge in 1965. The young family moved to Franklin County in 1972.

Last month, he participated in his 12th straight TEE tournament in Iowa. Hosted by Disabled Veterans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Training, Exposure, Experience Tournament is a national event that promotes camaraderie while providing legally blind and other disabled vets the chance to compete in several adaptive sporting activities.

"About 50 percent are visually impaired," explained Collins. "The other half are either ambulatory, amputees or those with brain trauma."

Other BGA events have sent him to Honolulu (three medals) and Arizona for the U.S. Open, where he once sat atop the leaderboard after a day's play; he's also been extended an invitation to the world championships in Rome.

For six consecutive years, Collins attended the National Veterans Golden Age Games at various U.S. sites, claiming four gold medals, two silvers and going undefeated in horseshoes for four years. Regionally, he's competed in scrambles at Brookville's Brook Hill Golf Course and was part of a winning foursome in a cancer benefit at Hamilton's Walden Ponds.

Through it all, he cherishes most the time he spends with his fellow brothers in arms. In 2011, his poem "Hats Off" was chosen to introduce a historical volume on Franklin County military personnel. It later won an award in Kansas City.

"I've met some of greatest people in the world over the years, and that's no joke," he said.

To learn more about the TEE tournament, visit www.tee.va.gov.

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