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Back On Course

Despite being severely injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, John Odom has found golf to be even more therapeutic than before

By: Tom Mackin

Anyone who plays Pebble Beach can be overwhelmed by the beauty, especially when they get to the iconic par-three 7th. John Odom and his wife Karen, who played there last month in a LINKS Magazine Mixed Team event, were no different. But it was less the views that made them savor the moment and more of how far they had come in the past year.
    The previous April the couple stood on Boylston Street right near the finish line of the Boston Marathon waiting to see their daughter complete the race when the first bomb went off right behind them. Both were knocked to the ground. Karen was bruised but the 66-year old John received severe injuries to his legs. He suffered a cardiac arrest in the ambulance and after arriving at Boston Medical Center but was revived both times. His condition was so serious that doctors could not promise Odom’s family that he would make it out of the hospital. The Southern California resident was on life support for two weeks and underwent 11 surgeries in 28 days. Yet thanks to superior medical care and support from his family, Odom survived but with nerve damage to both legs. Before he began rehab, he started working toward achieving three goals: walking, dancing with his wife, and playing golf again.
    “When I first went to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital (in Massachusetts),” he recalls, “the therapist came in and said, ‘John what is your goal?’ I said my number one goal is to hit the golf ball much straighter and much further. She just looked at me and said, ‘John why don’t we try getting out of bed first and learn to walk?’”
    At that point, seven weeks after the bombing, Odom had not even been out of bed yet. “But he was always looking that far ahead,” says Karen. In just more than a week he was able to stand. Then he took five steps. And then 30 more. “That’s when he really did know that nothing was going to stop him at that point,” she adds.
    The therapy area included a putting mat and outdoor putting green, so that became part of the rehabilitation, helping Odom improve his balance. “Golf was very important to him,” says Karen. “It was huge in his recovery. It’s what kept him going.” The staff at Boston Medical Center and Spaulding knew that too because he was always talking about playing golf. “When we went down to therapy in the gym area, other survivors would say to me they were going to come to California and play golf with me,” says the father of three. “So they all knew my goal was to play golf again.”
    He hit a ceremonial tee shot in August at a tournament in Boston set up on his behalf by Matt Reis, his son-in-law and then goalkeeper for the New England Revolution (his quick-thinking helped save Odom’s life as described in this MLS video). “I was really nervous and afraid I would shank it,” remembers Odom, who initially took up the game in his 30s and was a 19 handicap before the bombing. “I got up there prepared to use a 3-wood but my son-in-law handed me a brand new driver instead. I was very fortunate to hit the ball straight a little over a 100 yards. A lot of people were standing around watching. But it worked out fine.”
    The couple, who have since danced together, returned to California in September. While his injuries still make it hard for Odom to rotate his hips and put weight on his front foot, ongoing therapy has enabled him to now hit his driver 200 yards. He plays nine holes every other week at Rolling Hills Country Club in Palos Verdes, California. Although he hasn’t regained his previous distance, he now hits it straighter than ever. “So I’m scoring better because I’m not losing my golf balls,” he laughs.
    The couple is in Boston this week visiting family and friends and will attend the marathon on Monday. They are also looking forward to traveling around the country and playing different courses.
    Odom didn’t know what to expect before playing those 18 holes last month at Pebble Beach, yet he did just fine. In fact on that 7th tee, his tee shot stopped just eight inches shy of the hole. The memorable birdie helped his team finish second in the event. But it meant much more than that according to his wife. “I’m sure for him that was a moment when he said, ‘Okay, I’m back. I really can do this.’”

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