Raising money for Disabled Sports USA
Mark Wellman conceded that he’s not a golfer, but it still seemed as though a club would have been shoved into his hands at some point during the Mark Wellman Celebrity Golf Challenge last Friday.
Instead, Wellman got in his rounds as a greeter, cruising about the Tahoe Donner Golf Course and reception in social fashion, overseeing the event that raised money for Disabled Sports USA Far West.
“I’m no good at golf,” said Wellman, a world-renowned paraplegic athlete, perhaps best known for his ascents of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan and Half Dome. “It’s not really my sport. I’d rather be hanging from ropes and skiing and kayaking.”
But with more than 120 entrants in the Mark Wellman Celebrity Golf Challenge, most of whom were golfers ” as well as disabled U.S. war veterans and a number of celebrities ” a little harassment from friends was inevitable.
Pat MacDonald, the No. 1-ranked wheelchair golfer in the country, gave the man himself a quick earful while sipping brew at the after party and barbecue, jokingly offering Wellman an ultimatum that involved playing golf at the event next year after taking lessons. But Wellman laughed, rolled his eyes and disappeared into the crowd before any promises could be made.
MacDonald, a self-taught golfer of six years who was paralyzed while patrolling in Korea during Desert Storm in 1991, said Friday was his first time golfing in Truckee.
“This is awesome,” MacDonald said of the fund-raiser, which, according to event organizers, grossed around $70,000. “It was very well run, and it will just be bigger and better next year. I’ll definitely be back again.”
A member of the Long Drivers of America, MacDonald, who gave up his age of “38, going on 12,” holds the world record among wheelchair golfers with a 332-yard drive. How does he do it?
“I just swing hard,” he said ” with a 48-inch club.
Ken DuFresne, MacDonald’s buddy and fellow member of the Long Drivers of America, made the trip out to the Mark Wellman Celebrity Golf Challenge from New York City. The war veteran said the cross-country journey was well worth it and that he’d love to participate again next year.
“The event was unbelievable,” said DuFresne, who grew up in Napa and skied at Squaw Valley as a child, had not been back to the area in 35 years. “Real good people and great sponsors. It was a good turnout for the first one.”
As for Wellman, his social duties received priority even over climbing, as he didn’t play around at all on the climbing wall at the event.
A friend of Wellman’s, world-renowned paraplegic athlete Candace Cable of Truckee, gave the wall a shot, though.
In her first attempt at climbing, Cable made it to the top of the 20-foot wall with ease, she said, but became a bit nervous when her rope-handlers below had problems bringing her down. Temporarily stranded 20 feet above the ground, Cable said she began thinking of alternative ways to descend the wall. But her helpers figured out the rope dilemma and returned her safely to Earth.
Mark Wellman, a mountaineer since the age of 11 who has ascended more than 50 peaks in the Sierra Nevada and many in the French Alps, fell in the John Muir Wilderness during a climbing trip 1982. The accident left him paralyzed but did not keep him down.
Climbing with partner Mike Corbett, Wellman made history in 1989 when he became the first paraplegic to ascend the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. He conquered Yosemite’s Half Dome two years later and El Capitan again in 1999 at the 10-year anniversary of his first climb.
A former member of the United States Disabled Ski Team, competing in two Paralympics, Wellman also is known for extreme downhill skiing and whitewater kayaking. Wellman in 1993 became the first paraplegic to sit-ski 50 miles unassisted across 10,000-foot Tioga Pass in Yosemite, powered only by his arms.
Wellman earned a Park Management Certificate from West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., in 1991 before going to work as a full-time interpretive ranger and director of the Disabled Access Program in Yosemite. In 1996 Wellman climbed up a 150-foot rope in front of 200,000 spectators to light the Olympic Cauldron in Atlanta.
The book “Climbing Back” is Wellman’s autobiography, a story of his life as an accomplished wheelchair athlete. Wellman has designed adaptive sports equipment, developed programs to inspire and motivate others and even produced films highlighting disabled athletes and their accomplishments.
Speaking for the Washington-based Disabled Sports USA, Wellman lends his name to the Governor’s Committee on Employment for the Disabled and serves as a consultant for other organizations and corporations. He has received a number of awards for outstanding achievement and continues to give speeches and adaptive climbing seminars from college campuses to corporate boardrooms.
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.