At 73, double amputee Vietnam vet is golfing again with special cart at Manchester CC
BEDFORD — Robert Wilson, 73, is something of a celebrity at the Manchester Country Club on South River Road. Not just because he served his country admirably in Vietnam, lost his legs there on an aircraft carrier, and has been a tireless advocate for disabled golfers around the world — it’s also because his presence lights up a room.
“He beams with the kind of hope and stick-to-itiveness that really makes somebody stand out in a crowd,” said Haden Edwards, Wilson’s friend and golf buddy. “He’s a genuine guy with a great smile, a very warm heart.”
For the last two years, the regulars at MCC have missed Wilson, a Navy veteran who lives in Amherst, in the clubhouse and out on the links. Though he can walk, it had become too difficult for himto play the game he loved. But through the generosity of his friends at MCC, Wilson is golfing again with the help of a special golf cart.
Matthew Albuquerque, president of Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics, is Wilson’s friend and prosthetist, and a fellow member at MCC. Knowing how much Wilson missed golfing, he arranged the purchase of a SoloRider using funds raised from members at the club.
A SoloRider is a golf cart that enables people with certain disabilities to play while remaining seated, with a chair that rotates and elevates. These special carts can even ride onto the putting greens without damaging the grass. Each SoloRider costs approximately $10,000.
“Bob is a United States veteran who lost his legs protecting our freedoms,” Albuquerque said of his friend. “One of those freedoms is the ability to go out and play golf on a beautiful day. And for somebody who gave us the freedom to do that, I thought it was necessary to give him that same freedom, at a time when it looked like he wasn’t going to be able to play the game anymore.”
“This isn’t charity, this isn’t a gift; it’s what he deserves,” Albuquerque added.
Albuquerque said it was “an honor” to have helped get the SoloRider for Wilson and enable him to play again. He added that the SoloRider, which will be kept at MCC, would be available for use by any other disabled veteran at the course, and that Wilson will be able to take it with him if he plays elsewhere.
Wilson was excited to show off his new cart and all its features.
“The neat thing about this that you can drive it one-handed,” Wilson said, making it suitable for amputees who are missing an arm. “Just about anybody could drive it.”
Wilson has long been an advocate for disabled golfers. A former president of the National Amputee Golf Association, Wilson, who started playing at 17, lost his legs at the age of 33. He was back playing the game four months after the amputation.
In 2009, Wilson brought the NAGA Championship to MCC.
“These people were the most gracious, most fabulous athletes,” said Edwards, owner of H Communications, of which Next Step is a client. “As we deal with the mundane and complain about things that are really not worthy of complaint, these folks … always have the attitude that someone’s worse off than them.”
Wilson said he was “ecstatic” when he learned his friends had gotten him the SoloRider.
“I can’t thank them enough,” he said. “When I was in Philadelphia in the Navy hospital, recovering …[golfing again] was my big motivation go through the rehab.”
“Golf saved my life,” he continued. “I’m hoping, now, that this is going to be able to rehab me to get me back to where I was.”