Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
Many charity golf tournaments raise money for hospitals and organizations, but how many give high speed, low drag equipment directly to the disabled? One organization that does is the AMBUCS, an organization dedicated to helping individuals with ambulatory disabilities. Their signature contribution, the AmTryke, is a hand/foot operated tricycle for those with challenges using their arms and legs. Since the program started in 1988, the Irving chapter has given away over 1800 tricycles free of charge, and this year’s 10th Irving AMBUCS AmTryke Golf Classic at the Great Southwest Golf Club on Oct. 1 was a chance to both support their effort and see children ride their new tricycles for the first time.
By The way, it was a celebrity tournament with local stars such as Blazing Saddle’s Burton Gilliam, former Dallas Cowboy David Buehler and John Rhadigan of Fox Sports Southwest.
Also in attendance was Ali Nugent, Miss Texas USA 2013. She is very supportive of AMBUCS’ mission as exemplary of the intense, widespread spirit of service all around Texas.
“Something the state of Texas represents really well is giving back,” Nugent said. “Every week there is a charity tournament; every week there’s something, every day there’s something. What I’ve noticed about Texas, why I’m so proud the represent it is because there is so much giving back, and everyone cares here.”
Benjamin Landrey was a recipient of a new AmTryke. His mother, Kelley, was more than happy to share his story.
“He was playing baseball, and he fell,” Kelley said. “He had a brain tumor. Within 24 hours he was having a nine and a half hour brain surgery. After the surgery, he was in the hospital for 58 days with over a hundred other days in and out of the hospital.” Landrey continued to expound on Benjamin’s continuing struggle, and although he is living an active lifestyle through activities like Boy Scouts, things like severe hearing loss continues to put him at a disadvantage. “The radiation caused him to lose his eyesight, but we pray that one day it will come back, but we don’t know.”
The winning team at this year’s tournament was headed by AMBUC member Jim Crook. Charities like the AmTryke are particularly close to his heart because of his own family experience.
“I’ve got a nephew who was born with cerebral palsy,” Crook said. “His whole right side was paralyzed, and this young man ended up going to college, got a degree from the University of Florida. If you just give a young person a chance, they have it in their heart – they can just strive. Bad luck comes to all of us.”
Crook spoke passionately about the potential that AmTrykes realize in children.
“These poor young kids were born with bad luck, what they know they can fulfill once they’re on the bike. They know that they’re not limited,” he said.
Charlie Young, the only living charter member of the Irving AMBUCS chapter, talked about where the club has come since he became a member 50 years ago.
“Back then our main focus was scholarships for therapy students,” Young said. “That got started primarily because of Polio back in the 40s and 50s when so many kiddos had Polio. Probably the AmTryke is the biggest change I have seen. The nice thing about it is it’s more touchy feely than scholarships.”
Young explained the role evolving technology has had in shaping the AMBUCS’ outreach.
“People get to see these kids get on a tryke for the first time in their life, and they get a smile this big on them. That has given us more contact with people both adults and children who have disabilities,” he said.
The Am Tryke was conceived in 1987 when a children’s therapist spoke at an AMBUCS lunch in Longview. The therapist said that she needed a tricycle that could be operated with a hand crank for her patients who did not have the use of their legs. Dick Allen took up the challenge and with two tricycles and a welding kit built the first AmTryke in 1988. For the next few years, the Longview AMBUCS built the tricycles in the back of a repair shop and sold them to other chapters until the national organization acquired the rights and, with the help of Western Michigan University, began innovating and expanding the line.
“Back then we only had one size, and now we have them toddlers to adults. We go from diaper to diaper,” chuckled Young. “We test these things for about a year before we put them out. We have an “ambility” committee from all around the country from various clubs (one Irving member is on the board). They come up with ideas, and they engineer it.
Young continued, clarifying the contemporary Am Tryke R&D process.
“Any ideas they come up with they make it and have it tested there with kids. A new tryke will take two to three years in development stage,” he said.
Underneath the fancy technology, good friends, and golf a very simple message and reward remain clear. Benny Newman, a long-time AMBUCS member and veteran golfer bluntly put the event’s priorities in perspective.
“Whoever wins out here is immaterial. It’s the kids. When you see a youngster who can’t walk who can get on a bicycle or a tricycle and become mobile, then it’s all worth it.”