By Laura Berrios | AJC.com
Since his stroke, life has been upside down for Mak Yost of Smyrna, but adaptive golf is helping to turn it back upright.
The daily challenges the 21-year-old faces – standing and balancing, the left-hand tremors, and right-side spasticity – get lost among the joys of being at the Bobby Jones Golf Course on a sunny day.
Golf pro Orlando Rodriguez, and Mak’s mother, Faye Yost, can see his confidence growing with every swing.
In March, Mak got his first taste of adaptive golf when he and his mother attended an adaptive golf clinic co-hosted by Shepherd Center and the Georgia State Golf Association at Bobby Jones. The course offers adaptive carts and equipment so those with disabilities can play golf. These free clinics are held regularly at select golf courses statewide through the Georgia State Golf Association Adaptive Golf Program.
The athletic Mak took to the sport immediately. Using a special golf cart that helps him stand, Mak figured out how to swing the club despite his disabilities. Just using the equipment is therapeutic for his muscles.
“Mak’s eyes got huge. His whole demeanor changed being out on the golf course. His whole world just changed,” said his mother, recalling the clinic. Mak has since been taking private lessons with Rodriguez.
Almost 3 ½ years ago, Mak suffered a stroke caused by an arteriovenous brain malformation, a rare congenital disease that went undetected. It ruptured like an aneurism during a weight training class his senior year in high school. Fortunately, he was with his best friends and his lacrosse trainer, who called 911.
“The way everything happened, we were very lucky. It could have happened anywhere,” Yost said. “Mak and I strongly believe God has had his hands all over us from the very beginning of this journey. I know that he has great plans for Mak that we cannot even imagine.”
That stroke, followed by other strokes, brain surgery, extended hospital stays and constant therapy, changed everything for Mak. He was always an athletic kid, a gym rat who would try all kinds of sports and especially loved team sports, says his mom. In high school, he played on the lacrosse team and wanted to have a career in exercise science.
While he’s been working hard to regain functionality, Mak still suffers from limited mobility and hemiparesis on his right side. Not being able to play sports is one of the things he misses most.
The Shepherd Center’s adaptive sports program has been a lifeline. Mak has participated in wheelchair races, hand-pedaling bike races, mountain biking and other adaptive sports. These activities, especially golf, have given him hope that a sports career can still be in his future.
Mak always looks forward to his weekly golf lessons with Rodriguez.
“It’s very therapeutic, not only from a physical perspective but from an emotional perspective for Mak,” Yost said.
Rodriguez remembers the first lesson teaching Mak and others from the Shepherd Center. He said Mak’s “infectious smile” touched him.
“I connected with Mak right away. I saw his willingness to learn and his spirit. I could see that energy and enthusiasm for life,” Rodriguez said. He said Mak’s golf ability has since “grown leaps and bounds. With every session, he’s gotten stronger, better.”
Rodriguez said he’s honored to be a volunteer instructor with the adaptive golf sessions at Bobby Jones. As an Air Force veteran and a retired law enforcement officer, Rodriguez said he’s been around many people who have all sorts of physical challenges. He also connects right away to the many disabled veterans who attend the adaptive golf clinics.
“All we can do in an hour with adaptive golf is to give them a little hope away from their daily life. But in that one hour of hitting golf balls, they are outside, and it’s pretty. So if I can provide something that will make someone else’s life a little easier for one hour, it makes me feel good,” he said.
With his newfound confidence through golf, Mak is fighting to get back on track with his original career goals. He attends online classes from Georgia Southern University and plans to participate on campus for the spring 2022 semester. It will be the final college semester for his best friends from high school, and he wants to join them in Statesboro.
Yost said her son still struggles with speech and expressing or writing a lot of information. But he’s “always had a positive attitude about everything, is joyful and can laugh,” she said.
“The goal is to be leaving in January to be with them that last semester. I hope we can get there.”
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