Prosthetic foot does not slow down Widener golfer

Lee Thomas has had to work extra hard on his balance and the mechanics of his swing to improve his long-range golf game, but the results speak for themselves.
Lee Thomas has had to work extra hard on his balance and the mechanics of his swing to improve his long-range golf game, but the results speak for themselves.
Posted: March 04, 2014

Players don't usually lose a foot when they kick a soccer ball.

So Lee Thomas, a senior at Widener University and a graduate of Haddon Heights High School, had some unintentional fun with his coach the first time he played team soccer in elementary school.

No one told the coach that Thomas had a prosthetic right foot. "So he was completely oblivious," Thomas said.

A pack of kids chased the ball around the field, kicking it one way and then the other. Then Thomas stepped up and gave the ball a boot.

The ball went flying - and so did his right foot.

"The coach goes, 'Oh, my God. What is happening right now?' " Thomas said. "The coach had no idea. [He] hit the ground pretty much."

When Thomas was a baby, his right foot was amputated at the ankle after he was diagnosed with a rare muscle and tissue cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma. The muscles on the shin above the amputation haven't developed, either, so his right shin is considerably thinner than his left.

Since Thomas had never known anything different, he simply hopped over to retrieve his flying prosthetic foot that day at soccer practice. No big deal.

"Word kind of got around town about me, so all the other coaches found out," Thomas said. He wouldn't be able to surprise anyone else as easily.

Thomas is now 22 and approaching his final season as a college golfer. He is about to graduate with a computer science degree from Widener, and has a job lined up at JP Morgan Chase.

As a golfer, Thomas, who also played in high school, hasn't taken any special treatment and competes the same as any other player. He said he usually shoots in the low 80s, and his easy acknowledgment of his artificial foot has helped those around him get past it.

"You could always see, when you're shaking hands with opponents before the start, they would be looking down," said Matthew Caputa, a friend and teammate of Thomas' who acknowledges that, before getting to know Thomas in high school, he knew him as "the kid with one leg."

Sometimes, Thomas would tell opponents on other golf teams that a shark bit off his foot. "And they would believe him," Caputa said.

Other times he wouldn't say anything. He would acknowledge it. They would acknowledge it, and everyone would move on to golf.

Thomas' first college tournament was four years ago at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Delaware County, and he impressed the other players and coaches with his unassuming ways.

"The other coaches were asking if he needed a cart, or anything he would need to help him, and he adamantly denied any help whatsoever," said Brian Sheehan, Thomas' former coach at Widener. "He did not want to be treated any differently than anybody else.

"He's a very confident, very personable person that just loves golf. The other players enjoy playing against him."

Due to the prosthetic foot, Thomas has had to work extra hard on his balance and the mechanics of his swing to improve his long-range golf game, Sheehan said. And he took to it with a combination of positive thinking and dedication to the game.

"He's an emotional player. He thinks a lot. He takes golf seriously," Caputa said.

For Thomas, missing a foot hasn't been a disability. He said he's lived a normal life and looks for as much humor out of his condition as possible.

"He kind of embraced it," Caputa said.

And why not?

"We've kind of always had to laugh about it," Thomas said. "I kind of view it as: If you can't laugh about it, it's a disability."


cmindock@phillynews.com

@clarkmindock

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