Golfer and artist, Emil is due to play in the Watches Unlimited South African Disabled Golf Association (SADGA) Golf Day in August. Lee Currie visited this remarkable young man to find out how he came to be an ambassador of SADGA
Emil Maehler is physically disabled, however, this hasn’t stopped him from playing golf at 25 golf courses around the country, and participating in national tournaments. He is also a talented artist with a portfolio of stunning paintings which he does when he’s not in his back garden practicing golf swings.
Thirty-two-year-old Emil was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy at birth, and due to the spasticity of his facial muscles, is unable to speak. While he is able to walk, it’s limited to the use of his right side. One can only imagine the perseverance and courage it must have taken to overcome such adversities.
Emil may not be able to speak, but his heart-warming smile and bright expressive eyes speak volumes. Using a form of sign language and a voice function on his iPad to communicate (and a little assistance from his mother Marsha), he begins his story. “I’ve always loved sport, and as a young boy I played cricket in the garden. I loved bowling too, but there was no opportunity to play the game at school. This led me to play golf at the mashie course at Windsor. Then one of my teachers at Browns School told me there was an association for disabled golfers.”
This was in 2005. Two years later – after inspiring many disabled golfers – Emil became ambassador for SADGA. Boasting a handicap of 29, he attributes much of his success to his coach Martin Smit. “I’ve been with him for the last three years and he has been a great influence on my game.” Emil is currently sponsored for complimentary golf by the Mount Edgecombe Driving Range, and Mount Edgecombe Country Club, where he is a resident, and says that of all the golf courses he has played at, his home turf is his favourite. He is also sponsored by Watches Unlimited and the Golf Union.
And then there’s his other passion – painting. He works in watercolours, painting lovely country scenes and beautifully detailed paintings of trees. His works have been exhibited and successfully auctioned at a SADGA fundraising event in London.
Ask him what his message for people with disabilities is and he taps his answer with one word: “Perseverance.” Ask him what he finds most difficult when on the golf course – “Just playing.” *
SADGA was formed in 2004 in order to help physically and sensory disabled young people to play golf. The programmes are designed to foster courage and the ability to handle adversity and face challenges. “It’s also about bringing together able and disabled golfers to share their love for the game in the spirit of friendship and competition,” says Lily Reich, SADGA’s tournament director.
SADGA’S First Swing Programme
Lauded as one of SADGA’s biggest successes, this programme is designed to introduce disabled children and youth to golf. It’s promoted in a series of clinics at participating schools throughout South Africa, focusing not only on golf, but on rehabilitation through golf. A modified golf environment is created at the schools using bright durable equipment where even severely disabled children get a chance to participate.
“We’re particularly proud of this programme,” says Lily. “Not only does this teach them the basics of golf and give them the opportunity to enjoy an outdoor sport activity, it’s also designed to encourage vital life skills and expose learners to golf related industries with their future in mind.” Career options include hospitality, golf course management and public relations.
There are five different levels based on the children’s disabilities incorporating both sensory (blind and deaf) and physically disabled. Levels 1 to 3 cover therapeutic modified golf for the disabled, while levels 4 and 5 are for more advanced golfers –those who have managed to get a SAGA (South African Golf Association) handicap to those who will compete nationally and internationally and hopefully play in the Paralympics.