Maine Amputee Open an outlet for competition, camaraderie

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FALMOUTH — Tim Niles relished the fact that the golf tournament he played in Wednesday was won last year by an amputee.

The Maine Amputee Open was Niles first such tournament – he lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident four years ago, after a youth spent competing in sports – and he said he’d be back again next year.

“It’s nice to see the defending champion is an above-the-knee amputee, just like me,” said Niles, 32, a former track star at Old Town High School who lives in Brewer.

“I want to be able to be competitive. And other sports maybe I can’t. But golf has really let me be competitive against able-bodied golfers. And it’s good in that it will educate more people about amputees.”

The second-annual Maine Amputee Open at Falmouth Country Club is the only amputee golf tournament in Maine, but one of more than a dozen in the Northeast. There are divisions for amputee and able-bodied golfers, and the foursomes are mixed.

This year’s event drew 23 golfers from as far away as Pennsylvania.Reggie Grant of Windham had the top able-bodied and overall score with a two-day total of 159.

Seven amputee golfers competed, compared to five last year, when amputee golfer Bob Dean of Charleston, Massachusetts, won the overall title.

Dean, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident in 1975, won the amputee division this year with a two-day total of 174.

He has competed in amputee tournaments since 1995.

“You adapt to what you’re doing,” Dean said. “You learn to play the game based on what works for you, and what doesn’t. It helps me to see others who are facing similar challenges.”

The tournament is held by the Amputee Association of Maine that was co-founded in 2016 by John LeMieux of Falmouth, who lost his left leg to cancer in 2012. The Maine non-profit aims to offer support and services to amputees and is the only state organization of its kind in the Northeast, said Bob Buck, director of the Eastern Amputee Golf Association.

“There are sports for people with disabilities that are run out of hospitals and veterans homes, but not a group just devoted to amputees,” said Buck.

LeMieux said there are about 12,000 amputees in Maine and there is no organization that provides education and support to help them and their families navigate the challenges they face. His dream is for the association to be that organization.

“When people ask me how it’s changed my life I say, ‘Only in every way.’ It touches every part of your life,” said LeMieux, who is a principal at Anton LeMieux Financial Group in Falmouth.

Dean said the Maine Amputee Open is a model for how to bring amputees together in a healthy, outdoor pursuit.

Grant, who finished second behind Dean last year, said it’s eye-opening and inspiring to see amputee golfers compete against able-bodied golfers.

“It’s pretty profound to just sit and listen to some of their stories,” Grant said of the amputee golfers. “Their zest for life is apparent. The amputee golfers have a different way of looking at the game – a healthier way. They don’t get all jammed up mentally (about a poor shot).”

The 70-year-old National Amputee Golf Association has a national membership of 5,000, but Tracy Ramin, director of the national amputee tournament, said the Maine Amputee Open could help grow the ranks of amputee golfers in New England.

“We’re not filling the fields like we did 10 years ago,” said Ramin, who lost his left leg in 1998 after he was struck by a vehicle while walking. “If more states put on amputee tournaments, it could grow. In the past two years, we’ve gained some more young golfers, but the overall numbers are not going up.”

Buck created the Eastern Amputee Golf Association 32 years ago after losing his leg in an automobile accident. He agreed.

“The main reason to play is the camaraderie,” said Buck, 76. “We’re all experiencing the same thing. But you can learn a lot. You can learn a lot from other amputees, about the new kinds of prosthetics, about the fit.”

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Bob Dean, left, is congratulated by Falmouth’s John LeMieux during the second-annual Maine Amputee Golf Tournament in Falmouth last week.

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