Last Friday brought the Chicago Park District’s first annual Windy City Adaptive Golf Open to Jackson Park in partnership with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, and the Chicago Parks Foundation. This was the first-ever adaptive golf tournament to be held at a Chicago Park District golf course, aiming to shine a spotlight on athlete ability at every level.
Twelve foursomes participated in a sunny afternoon of lunch, awards, raffle prizes, and, of course, a full 18 holes of competitive golf. With an entry fee, participants could register as teams of three to be partnered with a golfer with a disability, or could register individually and be placed on a foursome by CPD.
At the heart of the event was Chicago Park District’s Disability Policy Officer, Larry Labiak.
“It’s an opportunity for folks without a disability to break down their perceptions that someone with a disability can’t do a whole lot,” says Labiak. “They see a one-legged amputee golfer out there swinging the ball with accuracy and think, ‘There’s a lot more to this person than I thought.’ It’s a small but positive change.”
Back in 2015, Labiak had the opportunity to bring two foursomes to a CPD Wounded Warrior golf tournament, and kept the idea for a larger adaptive open in his back pocket since. CPD has a longstanding adaptive sports relationship with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, who, as the number one rehab facility in the country, has extensive experience organizing adaptive golf fundraisers. Labiak isn’t a golfer himself and the Park District had never put on a tournament of this kind, so the Shirley Ryan partnership was key in making the September 15th event a reality.
“That’s what my office is all about,” Larry says. “Removing barriers by incorporating disability-friendly policies and programming. Planting a thought of achievement in the minds of disabled athletes and their friends. Fostering a win-win-win environment.”
An accomplished athlete himself (and adaptive sports administrator, referee, programmer… the list goes on), Larry says the fun for him is in recognizing the emotions and motivations that these participants are experiencing, because he’s been there. As a youth in the 1970s, there were far fewer adaptive sports opportunities available – “wheelchair basketball was really it,” he says. Labiak has used his role within CPD to expand those options, always on the lookout for something new.
Labiak intends to make this an annual late summer parks event, hoping to expand the number of participants and even invite guests from out of state in the future. “The most important thing in this first year,” he says, “was just to make the event happen and to bring people together.” Mission accomplished, Larry!
Learn more about the Park District’s Special Recreation program here.
Questions? Get in touch with Larry directly – he’d love to chat.
Disability Policy Officer
Chicago Park District