Without First Tee, I would still be the shy kid from Salinas, CA with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Devoid of lessons learned through First Tee programs, I would simply not be writing this letter yet alone be talking.
When you suffer sixteen seizures at two years old and have doctors tell your parents that you will never talk or never succeed in a mainstream class in school, I guess you can say I learned perseverance early in my life.
My parents enrolled me into numerous special education classes, occupational and physical therapy to regain my small muscle skills. However, with those classes came constant bullying of racial slurs and derogatory labels. Looking for appropriate programs that would help my social and physical development, my parents enrolled me into First Tee – Monterey County in 2005.
You can say that my local chapter and I have grown up together, so I consider myself part of the foundation and groundwork of our chapter. The coaches were always inclusive and willing to help guide my growth as a young adult on and off the golf course.
Despite the respect and acceptance into a sport that has given me so much, I still had a secret that I needed to tell. I did not share my disability with my First Tee coaches until 2014 when I talked to our Executive Director, Nick Nelson.
I was applying for the Outstanding Participant Summit, and I needed a recommendation letter from him. When he read my essay for the application he said to me,” Derrick, I had no idea you had Autism.”
Hearing that from someone I respect and look up to be a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. This was the first time in my life that I felt loved by people who truly care for me, the sport of golf provided me an inclusive and safe environment where I was allowed to grow and develop as a golfer but most importantly a future citizen.
Building on this newfound confidence I was able to share my disability with my best friends at school and others outside my family.
In addition to life skills and core values I learned the importance of networking. I was honored to participate in five national First Tee events, where I met fellow First Tee members like me from all around the country. I keep in touch with most of the participants I have met along the way and cherish their friendship and support.
What so many people consider to be a rich man’s sport is a sport that has given me a once in a lifetime opportunity. First Tee taught me life and golf skills – how to speak at public events to coaching an anti-bullying station during summer camp.
Most of these small accomplishments seem impossible to achieve with a disability like mine, but all you have to do is persevere through all the learning experiences I had to endure, working hard and never ever giving up. That is the impact First Tee has given me.