Blog 199, 5/3/12 - The Irrepressible Englishman

Bill tees off at the 1st.
When Bill Waite pulled back the curtains on Thursday morning and saw the blanket cloud cover and steady drizzle he was sorely tempted to give the day a miss. The 58-year-old Englishman has Parkinson's Disease (PD) and weather like this would likely mean a day of stiffness and other symptoms he could minimize by staying in bed.
Staying in bed is not Waite's solution for dealing with his condition, however. The year following his diagnosis in 2009 he made ten overseas trips, most of them to Europe and California where his son was studying at San Jose State University. He has only ever been to one support group but didn't like the vibe. "Everyone else regarded themselves as a victim and looked like they had given up," he says. "I didn't see it that way at all. There is too much life left to experience."
Waite just isn't the type to sit around feeling sorry for himself. And besides, he is on a 25-day mission to play 18 golf courses in British Columbia and the west coast of the US - a journey he hopes will raise awareness of, and funds for, Parkinson's programs and neurological research.
His quest began on Tuesday at the Richmond Country Club in BC and continued at the University Club in Vancouver on Wednesday. In the evening he drove his rented Nissan Maxima through the border - where he got in trouble in the Nexus lane ("I thought Nexus was a place") - and down into Bellingham, spending the night at the Econo Lodge directly across the street from the Bellingham Golf and Country Club where he had a 10 o'clock tee time Thursday morning.
"To be honest I'd not heard of Bellingham Golf and Country Club before," he says. "I was really just looking for somewhere to play between Vancouver and Seattle. But I read about the club, and the pictures I saw looked beautiful so I emailed Mike (Montgomery) in the pro shop and asked if I could visit as part of the trip."
Montgomery and Bellingham GCC were only too happy to make the arrangements. "I granted Bill access to the club because I thought it fit well with our tradition of being charitable to good causes," says Monthgomery.
There was still the problem of the dreary weather, but after a hearty breakfast in the clubhouse, a cup of hot coffee, and a couple of Levodopa (PD treatment), Waite was ready for his third round in three days. And I was fortunate enough to join him.
Bill and I on the clubhouse balcony.
Waite's first symptoms started appearing in 2008 when his speech began to slur and he had problems with co-ordination and ever-worsening stiffness. "The deterioration in my hand-writing was especially irritating," he says. "It was worse than my doctor's." His specialist told him he had Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a fatal neurodegenerative brain disease for which there is no known treatment. Waite was likely to require assisted living within two years and, after 32 years teaching math, writing widely-used math textbooks, and coaching various sports, he was relinquished of his post. In no position to find another job, he took early retirement. 
The diagnosis was a cruel coincidence as Waite had buried his best friend, Derek Ralston, just four weeks previously after Ralston had finally succumbed to Motor Neurone Disease, a devastating aflliction similar to what Bruce Edwards, Tom Watson's caddie, had suffered and not unlike what Waite was facing now.
In 2009, however, Waite's symptoms showed a marked improvement and the diagnosis was changed to Parkinson's for which there are several effective treatments. Waite was probably the happiest person ever to be told he had PD. Over time, he and his doctor found a combination of drugs that kept his most significant symptoms at bay while avoiding the worst side-effects. "My doctor is a fantastic Irish lady who has been tremendously supportive," says Waite. "And she was very encouraging about me making this trip. She basically said 'go for it'."
Waite certainly isn't symptom-free - he has trouble mouthing certain sounds and has to consciously think about where his tongue and lips need to be in order to say them. He has the gait of a man 15-20 years his senior - but really he is doing as well, if not better, than can be expected, a testimony to his doctor's skill, the medication, and his own resilience.
He tops his first shot of the day (off the 10th tee) into the creek 30 yards ahead of him, and we agree that given the circumstances - cold, raining, first look at the course, no warm-up, took up the game at age 50, Parkinson's Disease - he is entitled to another. His strikes the next shot nicely and the ball travels about 200 yards before settling in the right rough. He hits a hybrid up short of the green, chips on and makes a five with the second ball. It's the bogey of a perfectly competent golfer.
Bill's to-do list.
The swing is a little stiff, but it's obvious Waite was an athlete in another life. And he is Keen, with a capital 'K', about his golf, playing twice a week at home and carryinging with him a list of swing thoughts he has cobbled together from the numerous lessons he has taken from a teaching professional at a driving range near his home in Watford, just north of London.
We don't keep score, but I'm certain Waite would have broken 100 had we played all 18 holes - the incessant rain became too much to bear after 13. The highlight of his round was undoubtedly the tee shot at the 18th (our ninth) where he smacked a driver to within eight or nine feet of the hole. Sadly, he missed the birdie putt, but it was an impressive par nonetheless. On the 1st, his Challenge Hole (he has one per course to make an eclectic score for the whole journey), he reached the green with three nice shots before three-putting for a six.
Waite has no specific plans, yet, for how he's going to celebrate when he completes his 18-course challenge at the Stanford University Golf Course on May 25th. But he does have tickets to see his favorite musician, Alison Krauss, at the Mountain Winery near Saratoga that evening. "One of her songs, 'The Lucky One', proved particularly inspiring in my darkest days," he says. "It has the marvelous line 'He laughs at the devil as his train goes by'. That's kind of how I've felt all along."

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