Don Camplese personifies the concept of resilience in the face of difficulty.
Rather than quitting after cancer cost him the use of his left arm, the avid golfer has adapted and is again enjoying the game, only in a one-handed fashion now.
In fact, the Hideaway Beach Club resident is displaying some of the same skill he’d demonstrated prior to 2012 when he had surgery for chondrosarcoma, a cancer that causes malignant tumors on bones and soft tissue. Don, 82, notched his second hole-in-one, his first since the surgery, in January on the community’s nine-hole executive golf course.
“One with two-hands and one with one hand,” said the retired college professor.
“I’m shooting in the thirties again and par here is 32,” he added, “ I try to come in at about five over because it’s hard to get on the par-fours with one arm. I can’t get on (the green) in two a lot of times. I try to do it in three. Driving is the easiest part, but it’s the next shot that is more difficult with one arm.”
He utilizes forward tees now to compensate for not being able to generate the same power as before and he’s had to learn how to generate lift and accuracy with just one hand.
“I don’t hit a lot of golf shots,” Don said. “What I do is I try to hit the ball up and towards the hole. It’s about strategy more than it was before. I know where to hit the ball. I’ve developed a strategy where I hit the ball to more opportunistic places.”
Ironically, he’s become a better putter with the new approach.
His wife, Kay, provided the nudge that got him back on the golf course in Juneof 2012, five months after surgery at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. “I said to him, ‘Honey, you can play golf again,” she said. “‘As good as you are you just leave this hand and go like that. You can do it.’”
So they went on a golf outing with another couple and he began working to find a new way to play.
“If you’ve got the grit and courage and you don’t fear looking silly or being humiliated, you can do it,” said Kay.
Don said he’s enjoying golf just as much as he did prior to the cancer’s appearance.
“It’s probably the safest thing I can do other than walking and it’s competitive,” he said. “I love competition.”
Cancer is not the only daunting health challenge he has had to surmount over the last few years.
The Campleses were attending a social at the Hideaway Beach Club in February of last year, when he decided to rest after they’d taken a turn on the dance floor. That plan was interrupted when he went into cardiac arrest.
“I sat down to eat and I keeled over,” said Don.
Fortunately, the affair was also attended by three of his friends, all physicians, who, with the assistance of two Beach Club staff members, were able to revive him and keep him stable until paramedics arrived.
“Good thing I’m a good putter because I had played golf with those guys earlier that day and I’d made the winning putt,” he said.
A lifelong fitness buff, Don played basketball at West Liberty University in his native West Virginia and later became an accomplished racquetball player while teaching psychology, along with Kay, at Bloomsburg State University in Pennsylvania. He also taught at nearby Bucknell University.
“It was a shock because I had been an athlete all of my life,” hesaid of the cardiac event.
Kay said her husband had trouble regaining his strength after the cancer surgery at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
“Little did we know that the anterior artery was totally blocked, practically, and that his heart had built another anterior pathway around the widowmaker, and that the other two arteries bringing blood down to the heart were also blocked,” she said. “We had no idea.”
Open heart surgery, which involved harvesting a vein from his leg to rebuild the affected artery, soon followed. His recovery was complicated by a staph infection two weeks after the surgery, which required another hospital stint.
Like her husband, Kay is also an avid athlete; tennis is her specialty, but she has also become an ace golfer since the couple moved to Hideaway in 1993. That is also when Don began golfing.
“We got a little bit better and a little bit better,” she said. “I’ve been a club champion a couple times and so has Don. We’ve been couples champion a couple times too.
And like her husband, she has experienced the euphoria of the hole-in-one, six in her case, the last occurring two weeks after her husband’s January feat. Kay had her first hole-in-one about two weeks after Don’s first, in 2003.
“We had our hole-in-one parties together,” she said.
Todd Elliott, the Hideaway Beach Club’s golf pro, has known the Campleses for almost four years, and that they are very popular in the community. “I know that the members have a lot of fun when they’re around,” he added.
Elliott credited Don with demonstrating what it means to overcome.
“Last year, when he wasn’t playing as well, he didn’t give up and he just kept working to perfect what he was doing,” said Elliott. “He didn’t let frustrating times prevent him from working and trying to get better.”