Atlanta, GA,
12:53 PM

Out and About with Recreation Therapy

Patients test new skills and discover new passions through Recreation Therapy Program outings.

Holding a club in one hand, seated in a wheelchair angled beside a raised tee, Amber Bruce takes her first swing on the driving range at Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta.

She whiffs.

Amber, 31, smiles gamely as her sister Anna Bruce sets up another ball. She swings again. This time the ball hops about five yards.

Amber looks up and grins: “Contact!”

She and her sister laugh aloud together, as they will often during this golf outing for a half dozen Shepherd Center patients. After several dozen more swings, the addition of some adaptive equipment and tips from a pro who works with people who have disabilities, Amber starts sending balls 50 yards out into the grass. A bright sun burns overhead in the clear blue sky.

“It was just good to get out of the hospital,” says Amber, who became paralyzed from the chest down after sustaining a C-5, C-6 incomplete spinal cord injury.

Golf is one of many outings she’s been on as part of the Recreation Therapy Program at Shepherd Center. Other outings include trips to Atlanta Botanical Garden, Target, Shake Shack and a nail salon.

“It’s a step back into normalcy for a second,” Amber adds, “It was a blast. It’s not about being the best golfer. It’s about being in position to master something again. We’re already talking about coming back on our own.”

Funded entirely by donors, Shepherd Center’s Recreation Therapy Program is the largest in the U.S. It’s staffed by 35 therapists, including specialists in areas such as the outdoors ( shing, hiking, hunting), horticulture, music, visual arts and aquatic sports.

Patients also travel with therapists outside of the hospital to replicate life back in their communities back home. They shop at a grocery store, try on shoes at the mall, eat out at a restaurant and get a haircut.

“We do as much as we can in the inpatient and day patient programs so that they’ve been there, done that,” says Kelly Edens, CTRS, therapeutic recreation manager. “They’ve problem-solved. We teach them how to feel comfortable and advocate for their needs so when they go home, they’re not just sitting in their house. Anything’s possible.”

The golf outing is held once a month at nearby Bobby Jones Golf Course. It’s for patients who’ve played golf before their injury and for patients who’ve never swung a club.

Adaptive equipment is available, including carts that allow players to stand and gain mobility.

As with other sports, golf aids a variety of rehabilitative goals: core strength, dynamic balance, grip. Yet the primary goal is simply to get outside amid the grass and trees and socialize.

“We’ve had people who’ve never played golf get into it,” says David Windsor, director for the Georgia State Golf Association’s Adaptive Golf Program. “They say, ‘Hey, I can be competitive again.’ They’re outside with all this green space and nature and the highs and lows of a sport – it gets downright addicting to them. They hit that good shot and they say that’s the shot that keeps them coming back.”

Brian Moss, 66, played golf at least once a week as a board member at the Bentwater Golf Club, in Acworth, Georgia, before a surgical issue caused a T-5, T-6 spinal cord injury.

Hitting from his wheelchair with one hand, Brian soon sailed balls 50 and 75 yards. Then he sent one past a pin 100 yards away – the kind of shot that keeps golfers coming back.

Moss smiled.“I got a rush from that one.”

To make a gift to Shepherd Center's Recreation Therapy Program, contact Courtney Harris at 404-350-3717 or

Written by Drew Jubera
Photos by Louie Favorite

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.