Yes, still playing golf with ALS

Today I  posted on facebook (which I don’t do often) that I spent my 60th birthday playing golf on a beautiful fall day. I got a lot of nice birthday greetings in response, a couple of which marveled that I was still able to play golf despite having ALS now for four years.  The confusion is understandable – our messaging about ALS is that median life expectancy is three years. If, statistically, I shouldn’t even be alive, how am I well enough to play golf?

The answer is that I appear to have a “slow progression” version of ALS. No one knows why, but a fraction of people with ALS (about 10%) live 10 or even 20 years. The fact that my ALS symptoms are still confined to my legs, and my leg strength has not really changed much in 18 months, is a clear indication I have slow progression. That is no guarantee it will continue that way – my condition could change for the worse at any time. But for now it has allowed me to proceed with my life with only minor adjustments. I am still working full time; I can walk a mile or more at a time, slowly,  using only an ankle brace (though for long walks I use a roller just to be safe); and I can play golf as well as I could before (which is to say, still not very good). The AFO (foot ankle brace) is a huge help in keeping my weak left foot and ankle stable while I hit and walk   In some ways golf is the perfect sport for me now, as it involves walking a lot, but for short distances, and then sitting in the golf cart, which gives my legs a quick rest.  

Author: Ken Menkhaus

Professor of Political Science at Davidson College. Specialist on Somalia and the Horn of Africa. Interests include development, statebuilding, informal governance systems, peace and conflict studies, and political Islam. I also teach on philanthropy and the non-profit sector.

3 thoughts on “Yes, still playing golf with ALS”

  1. Love to hear you’re doing well. But you didn’t say if you’re hitting the ball straight or not! Keep up the inspiring work and take care.

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    1. I actually played well, by my standards, shot a 92! I have lost some distance in my long irons, as I’m focusing leg and hip muscles on balance and so am having to rely more on my arms for club speed. Thanks for asking.

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