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Former Midlander to tee off again at Warrior Open
With a 17-month-old daughter and a baby boy on the way, Midland native John Faulkenberry admits he hasn’t had much of a chance to practice his golf game.
The former U.S. Army sergeant first class plans to cram in a few practice rounds in the coming weeks, though, as he prepares to hit the fareways for a presidential event.
Faulkenberry, 29, will compete with 21 others in the Warrior Open, a 36-hole tournament hosted by President George W. Bush that will feature members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been severely wounded in the war on terror. This year’s tournament will take place Sept. 24-25 at Las Colinas Country Club in the Dallas area.
This will be Faulkenberry’s second time to participate in the event; at the golf tournament’s inaugural event last year, he tied for third out of the 20 players. That spot allowed him an automatic entry into this year’s tournament, he said, but he looks forward to reuniting with about half of last year’s warriors who are returning for a second shot at the champion title.
“When you meet these guys, you don’t know any of them, but you share a common background,” he said. “You instantly connect with them.”
Faulkenberry immediately joined the Army upon his graduation from Midland High School in 2001, and was deployed to Iraq twice before his deployment to Afghanistan in May 2007. He was severely wounded just a few months later when his unit was ambushed by enemy gunfire, which killed two of his fellow soldiers and injured several others. He underwent dozens of limb salvage surgeries over the course of three years before he received a below-the-knee amputation on his right leg in 2010. A brace he received at Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio prepared him to bear weight on his right side and engage his leg muscles while using prosthetics after the amputation.
“I hit the ground running,” he said. “Not real far and not real fast, but enough.”
While undergoing physical therapy and the long journey to recovery, Faulkenberry worked toward his bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science. He received his degree in May 2012 from Texas State University, after reaching medical retirement in March. He now works at Center for the Intrepid as a prothetics and orthotics technician, building the braces and prosthetics that help others who find themselves in the position he was in five years ago.
“It’s like I’m returning a favor, if you will, building braces and legs that are given to wounded service members,” he said. “For me, the Center for the Intrepid is a state-of-the art building that got me fixed; it got me my life back. I see nothing but happy memories there.”
Golf is therapeutic for the mind and body of wounded service members, Faulkenberry said. Not only does it help with core strength and balancing, he explained, but it gives the warriors a break from the demand of physical therapy.
“Mentally it gets you out of the gym and you get to go outdoors,” he said. “Most of the time prior to that, you’re spending your days in the hospital.”
To participate in such a high profile event like the Warrior Open was nerve-wracking for Faulkenberry last year, he said, but he appreciated the ability to meet others with similar backgrounds and spend time with Bush, who he’d met first at Center for the Intrepid. The former president spent all day with the wounded warriors last year while they practiced for the event, and spent four solid days with the service members, Faulkenberry said.
“Personally, I think it’s a great way to show how President Bush, during his presidency as commander-in-chief, cared about the decisions he made and how it affected people,” he said. “He hasn’t quit on us and he goes out of his way to show his gratitude.”
This year’s event also will give Faulkenberry the chance to reflect on how far he’s come since 2007, both physically and mentally. The family man admits his golf game hasn’t exactly been a first priority, as he expects the arrival of his second child with his wife Sarah in December.
“Getting wounded myself has changed everything,” he said. “It’s changed my experiences and my outlook on life. I’ve seen old opportunities lost but also new ones gained. It was a pretty hard transition from start to finish, but I’m more accepting of what’s ahead now.”
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