My Biggest Challenge

ChallengeFans of the PGA Champions Tour know that senior golfers traditionally hit the competitive wall at 54 years of age.  For those on the regular PGA Tour the number is around 44.  For pro athletes in other competitive sports, it’s much earlier in life.  Yesterday I turned 54.

For most people, life’s changes are gradual and the decline in performance is hardly noticeable.  On October 19 of last year, I was playing a round on my local muni and walking as I usually do.  Five or six times during the round I found myself completely out of breath, and in the need to stop and recover before continuing.  Knowing something was definitely not right, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor.  Long story short, I was referred to a cardiologist who put me through a battery of tests and diagnosed me with a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  This is a hereditary disorder where the interior walls of your heart are thicker than normal and reduce the volume and capacity to pump blood.  The primary symptoms are shortness of breath, fatigue, and lightheadedness, all of which I have been experiencing on a daily basis.  There is no cure; you just treat the symptoms.

After my initial diagnosis, the doctor cleared me to practice and play out of a cart, but I was instructed to abstain from any competitive sports or from significantly elevating my heart rate.  So I cut out all caffeine, alcohol, and tried to live life like a china doll.  After a couple very frustrating weeks I decided to try a little chipping and putting along with a light range session, but that went poorly.  Imagine the distraction of feeling dizzy over your putts and wondering if you were going to collapse with every swing.  A few days later, I received some welcome news from a heart MRI that revealed no damage to my arteries so I wasn’t at risk for a heart attack.

This all coincided with my annual Veterans Day golf trip to the eastern shore and I decided to give it a shot, albeit with significant trepidation.  So, three weeks after the initial diagnosis, and on the initial dosage of a beta blocker, I played three straight days riding in a cart.  Day one was dizzy, day two was fine, and day three I felt like crap the entire round, as well as the whole following day.  I have not played or practiced since, but have increased the medication dosage which has helped the symptoms somewhat but I’m a long way from what I’d call normal.

So how does golf fit in?  I am passed the initial phase of wondering why this happened to me and feeling sorry for myself, and believe that you need to move forward in a positive manner.  Also, there are other folks who clearly enjoy the game and struggle to participate for reasons of illness or disability.  Some of our wounded veterans come to mind, and the courage they’ve shown after losing arms, legs, and what not, has been amazing and inspiring, so some perspective is in order.  I am thankful that I can still participate, although it may not be to the level that I want.

Moving forward, I will try to manage the symptoms, drop a few pounds of holiday fat, and look forward to the start of the season as I always do.  A reasonable goal is a walking symptom-free round by the end of April, then I can worry about scoring average and GIRs.  I also understand that these beta blockers are not on the list of approved drugs on the PGA Tour because they keep you too calm, so when I finally get out there, I’m going to putt lights out!  See you on the Super Seniors Tour real soon!

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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18 Responses to My Biggest Challenge

  1. Brian

    Sorry to hear about your heart condition, but at the same time happy to hear there was no damage to your arteries and that you have a great attitude moving forward. We can’t always control what hands we’re dealt in life, all we can control is how we play them.

    Best of luck getting ready for the upcoming season, I wish you all the best and hope you can manage your symptoms and get back to where you want to be on the golf course.

    Cheers
    Josh

    • Brian Penn says:

      Josh,

      I will play these cards to the best of my ability and work the symptoms off the course first, and then hopefully transition back when I’m ready.

      Thanks!

      Brian

  2. Brian,

    WOW! First, positive thoughts heading your way!

    I can relate to your current journey. In 2009, I was diagnosed with cancer. In 2011, I had treatment. All is great now. But the initial shock, fear, worry, dread, and disbelief ran through my mind all the time. A mental journey to the positive side of life is why I started blogging.

    You are on your road to recovery! I can just tell. It was very brave of you to talk about you challenges and look to the future with positive intent! You can do anything if you put your mind to it and it sounds like you have a awesome goal. Know that your golfing friends are behind you and will gladly support you every step of the way.

    Great to hear you are OK. This chapter in your life will soon be a distant memory!

    Cheers
    Jim

    • Brian Penn says:

      Jim, I very much appreciate the positive thoughts. It is comforting to know you made it through similar trials and tribulations and that all is possible. Congratulations on your recovery.

      Thanks,

      Brian

  3. Wayne Halm says:

    Aloha Brian,
    Whoa Brian, this is frightening news – I’m sorry to hear it. But I like your plan for dealing with it. Please keep us posted on your progress.
    And if you will suffer a comment – Be careful with the beta blockers. Find out all you can about them – What they do – How they do it – What interacts with them – Why your doctor wants you to take them? Beta blockers are strong medicine, with significant side-affects – know about them.
    I wish you well with this Brian. And yes, I will see you on the Super Seniors Tour – if I can make the cut.
    A Hui Hou,
    Wayne

    • Brian Penn says:

      Wayne, thanks for the heads up on the beta blockers. They are prescribed to slow down the force with which the heart has to pump. The use makes sense when explained to me by my cardiologist. The only side-effects have been cold hands and cold feet, but I’m not sure that’s not related to the winter weather here in DC. Maybe I need a golf trip to the islands to confirm! Thanks for your well wishes.

      Regards,
      Brian

  4. svgolfer says:

    You got this! Sorry to hear the news and kudos for turning around your mental energy so quickly. For sure a few less carbs and more green leafy things will help. Also for sure hope golf and the human body’s resilience springs eternal. At the risk of suggesting a Tiger-esque remedy – perhaps a swing adjustment like making it shorter and possibly more efficient can help. But totally just a thought. Life goes on and where there’s a will there’s a way. Stay inspired and one day I’ll be watching the Championships going “hey I remember when he ……” Chin up and all that sorta stuff. Stay cool. SVg.

    • Brian Penn says:

      SV, Very much appreciate the positive vibe. I am chomping at the bit to get a solve over here and a little frustrated by the winter cold and inability to test myself. Just a few more weeks and I’ll be back at it.

      Thanks!

      Brian

  5. Ditto on all the above comments and hopes for a speedy recovery. Time and patience are the keys and just listen to your body, it knows more than your brain. Hey doesn’t that sound like golf. GOOD LUCK!

  6. Brain – Thoughts and prayers for you. Be smart and be safe; I’d like to be able to read your takes on golf and golf courses for at least a couple more decades.

    • Brian Penn says:

      Dave thanks very much. I’m highly motivated to improving my health and getting back out on the course as soon as possible. I guess it’s a positive that this thing hit me in the tail end of 2014 and offered up the offseason to spend on recovery and adjustment. I’m planning on getting out there as soon as the weather permits.

      Best to you, The Wife, and the little 1bearded one!

      Brian

  7. Hi Brian, it seemed really strange to click on the Like button, when I really did not like reading about your problems. I admire your courage and truly hope that you can continue playing golf. Using a cart seemed as if it was a good option, so I hope it does work for you.

    Pete

    • Brian Penn says:

      Yeah, Pete. WordPress didn’t provide a “Dislike” button did they. . .Anyway, I appreciate your kind words and I will do everything possible to keep playing the game because life would be pretty boring without the constant challenges it poses. Thanks again!

      Brian

  8. Hi Brian, Sorry to hear about the health issues but thank you for sharing with us. I hope you get better and can use golf as a stable tool to keep you safe and healthy as you navigate through this heart condition. Also, love that you have a sense of humor about putting and the beta blocker- looking forward to hear about your come back on the PGA-SST!

  9. Brian,

    Very sorry to hear about your health troubles. I can tell you have a positive outlook on the situation, but hearing news like that is never easy. Thank you for sharing your journey as always and it is a true treat to hear all of your wisdom about the game, the journey and life. Thoughts and prayers your way!

    -Jon

    • Brian Penn says:

      Jon, thanks for your well wishes. The meds are kicking in, I do believe. At least I’m having a pretty good week and can sense some slow and steady improvement. I just need some decent weather to hit the course and test my limitations as such. Appreciate the kind words!

      Brian

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