Which way do you run when trouble comes? Patti Valero runs toward danger. The recently retired firefighter/EMT from Fire Rescue Station 30 in Hillsborough County, Fla., dedicated nearly half of her life to saving others.
“In 1992, I was working in a hospital in Orlando, Fla., not really sure if it was what I would do forever,” she said. “Then I saw a patient coming into the emergency room. A firefighter in full gear was pushing the stretcher and I just knew it was for me.”
A year later, she was on the job. Four years after that, she was named the 1997 Firefighter of the Year, a first for a woman in the county.
Eventually, Valero would become just as passionate about golf – because it helped save her life.
“In 2009, I was riding my motorcycle,” she said. “I was about a block from home, when I met up with a drunk driver, a kid in his truck, driving the wrong way to another party. Apparently, he told the police that I was driving like I was crazy person.”
Valero says “apparently” because she has no recollection of the accident, which forced the amputation of her left leg below the knee.
“At the time, I had high hopes about becoming a professional bowler,” she said. “But I am a right-handed bowler, so I need my left leg for balance when I follow through. I threw a 16-pound ball, which is very heavy, so there was just no way that I would be able to bowl the way I did.”
Valero and her husband, Frank, were separated at the time of the accident. Her son Joseph, who was 21 at the time and living in Orlando, helped her through the life-changing transition she faced.
“I saw it every day when I was on the job,” she said. “Bad things happen all the time and we saw how resilient people could be after they went through a tragedy. It’s not what you go through, it’s how gracefully you come back.”
Valero was ready to get on with her life – and find a hobby. Bowling’s loss was golf’s gain.
“I have always been an athlete, so I needed to find a sport for the ‘new’ me," said Valero. "Frank and I were still separated, so I bought four used clubs and went to the driving range by myself. I loved it from the first swing and realized what I was missing. The people around me were so supportive and encouraging. I learned right away how kind golfers are.”
Of the 57 million Americans living with disabilities, 6 million play golf. With your help, the USGA can continue its commitment to exploring ways to help people – whether they are facing challenges from birth or recovering from a profound injury or illness – see the possibilities of golf’s healing powers.