ORLANDO, Fla. -- Greg DiGirolamo bubbled with excitement after shooting an 83 in open play recently as a first-year student at the Golf Academy of America's Orlando campus.
Golf Academy of America is the largest and longest-running two-year golf college, with five campuses nationwide. Its 16-month program balances classroom studies and practical experience to prepare students for entry-level positions in the golf industry. It has an 81 percent placement rate over the past 10 years.
There was a time several years ago when the now 27-year-old would have been disgusted with a score in the 80s. But that was before a boating accident in May 2007 left him a quadriplegic without much hope of ever moving or walking again.
"Before I hurt myself I was real competitive and I wanted to see just how good I could get," DiGirolamo said. "I wanted to get out there on a mini tour. Now, I'm not sure what I want to do. But, I am having fun again and I think I have proven that if I can play this game, anyone can. I have been through a lot."
Indeed he has.
He was boating and partying with friends one afternoon on the Pensacola (Fla.) Sound when he dove into what he thought was deep water. The water was less than three feet deep, and DiGirolamo landed headfirst.
He felt pain and discomfort in his neck, but he was able to gather himself and slowly climb back onto the boat. But when he turned his neck he aggravated the injury and irreparably damaged his spinal cord. He collapsed and went into shock. He had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital. The next thing he remembers is waking up in ICU and not being able to move from the neck down. He spent five weeks in ICU and two more months in a rehabilitation center. He even was in a medicated coma for seven days.
"I am a miracle today," said DiGirolamo, who has progressed to walking with two crutches. "The doctors told my parents that it was not likely I would ever move again from the neck down, but my parents would never let anyone tell me that.
"It's been a hard life lesson. I was a bad binge drinker before the accident. And maybe you don't learn until you hit rock bottom. Well, I hit the bottom, to say the least. The day of the accident, there was way too much alcohol and not enough water."
Today, DiGirolamo hits his drives about 190 yards and plays his golf round from the forward tees. The slender 160-pounder used to have all the right moves; allowing him to hammer drives 320 yards. But, he looks at things from the bright side.
"It's remarkable that I am where I am now," DiGirolamo said. "I was never really good in school, but the Golf Academy really clicks for me. I was hesitant at first, but all of my classmates bend over backwards to help me. I've had to learn to do everything all over again. But, now I am pretty much self-sufficient."
"I see him fighting every day. He's a role model for perseverance," said Brad Turner, Orlando campus director. "I think the students admire him. It's amazing to see what he can do."
DiGirolamo knows he'll never hit 320-yard drives again, but he now carries a different dream about being involved in the golf industry, thanks to the Golf Academy of America.
About Golf Academy of America
Golf Academy of America (formerly the San Diego Golf Academy) is the largest and longest-running two-year golf college in the world. Golf Academy of America's 16-month program balances classroom studies, practical experience and comprehensive understanding of both the game and the business of golf. Campuses are located in San Diego, Phoenix, Orlando, Myrtle Beach and Dallas. For more information, call 800-342-7342 or visit www.GolfAcademy.edu. The schools are owned and operated by the Education Corporation of America, headquartered in Birmingham, Ala.
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