Head down. Elbow straight. Weight properly distributed.
Kellie Valentine is no different from other golfers when it comes to addressing the fundamentals of her swing.
The McKean resident adhered to them enough to win her division in a long-drive tournament held Oct. 15-17 outside Las Vegas.
What made Valentine’s victory unique, though, was that her best drive of 224 yards was accomplished with only one arm.
The 43-year-old won the women’s unassisted competition of the 2014 ParaLong Drive Worlds at the Mesquite Sports and Events Complex.
The three-day event brought together participants who were missing limbs or suffered other disabling injuries.
It was the first such competition for Valentine, a Northwestern High School graduate who played volleyball, basketball and softball for the Wildcats.
It also was a notable accomplishment for someone who readily admitted she once considered golf “slow and boring.”
“My father got me clubs when I was in college,” the Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate said, “because he said golf is a corporate game, and no matter what you do, you’ll likely play. I finally started playing after I lost my arm. He knew I was athletic, so he said any sport where he could beat me can’t be slow.
“Finally,” Valentine said, “I said, ‘Dad, give me the clubs, and I’ll beat you within two years.’ I finally did. That’s what gave me a goal.”
Valentine was working in the sports department for a Johnstown television station when her life changed.
On Nov. 13, 1993, she was the passenger in a car involved in an accident in Cambria County. She instinctively raised her arms to protect her head when the car initially struck a tree.
Valentine’s right arm was severed above the elbow by a beam that tore through the windshield.
When Valentine finally healed, she pursued a career also chosen by those who helped her recover. Her initial decision was to get involved in physical rehabilitation, which evolved into mental health therapy.
Valentine received her master’s degree in counseling from Gannon University in 2002 and went into private practice. She shares an office with Waterford resident Sarah French at the Intermodal Transportation Center.
Because Valentine doesn’t wear a prosthesis, she said she tends to get quick respect from her clients. That, in turn, helps show them they can heal in their own ways.
“I really don’t have to say anything about it,” Valentine said of her missing arm. “It’s something they can better understand than maybe something wrong that’s not visible.”
Valentine sought out Dave Smith when it came time to get the unique help needed with her golf game.
Smith is a local golf professional who’s also worked with clients who were missing legs, and even one who was blind. He hasn’t tutored Valentine for several years, so he was unaware of her ParaLong title until told about it by a reporter.
However, Smith wasn’t totally surprised about Valentine’s accomplishment, either. He cited her athletic ability while at Northwestern and once watched her shoot a round of 79 at North East’s Lake View Country Club, one of Erie County’s most challenging 18-hole courses.
“She was fun to work with,” Smith said of Valentine, “and she inspires me by working with people who are bipolar. She can help them by showing she’s someone who’s sort of in their shoes. You have to have a strong mind to do what she does.”
Although Mesquite was Valentine’s first long-drive tournament, it wasn’t her first major golf competition. As a member of the National Amputee Golf Association, she’s played in paragolf tournaments in countries including Italy, Japan and Australia.
Valentine plans to keep entering them as long as her schedule permits.
“Losing my arm has opened more doors than one would think,” she said. “I’ve had the chance to visit and play golf in other countries that never would have happened before (the accident).”
- On October 27, 2014