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A Burn Injury Survivor Becomes an Excellent Fundraiser–and Golfer

A story on the pro-golf website www.PGATOUR.com caught my eye this week, and it has almost nothing to do with the golf that is being played by the top male professionals.

This past week in Irving, TX, a burn victim who has had 52 surgeries, and who has just five working fingers out of ten, and who was blind for eight months, and who had to undergo intensive therapy sessions just to walk, talk, and eat again, took on a central role in the HP Byron Nelson Golf Championship, a big event in pro golf. That man, Jason Schechterle, carried the golf bag for his high-school friend Ted Purdy, who is a pro golfer.

Ten years ago, such a role would never have been dreamed of by Jason, Ted, or any of his doctors. Back then, Schechterle was a rookie police officer in Phoenix. One night, his squad car was struck from behind by a taxi driver traveling more than 100 miles per hour. Schechterle’s car burst into flames and for eight agonizing minutes, he was trapped inside.

Once he was freed, his life was changed forever. He suffered third-degree burns and even fourth-degree burns to more than 50 percent of his body. The skin on his face, head, and hands were simply gone.

Ted Purdy, who has won just one event in his years on the pro golf tour, is grateful to have Schechterle by his side as he plays. “I knew if I had him carrying my bag, I’d be inspired,” Purdy said. “But he turned me down initially.”

Why? Because “this is pretty serious business,” Schechterle says. “This is Ted’s job.”

Schechterle eventually changed his mind because he knew he would enjoy it. He also knew that caddying at a pro golf event would help get the word out about his non-profit foundation, Beyond The Flames, which raises money for people who have suffered a loss or tragedy or need inspiration as they seek to return to a normal life.

He also knows one other thing — golf. Not only did Purdy and Schechterle play together in high school, they continue to play together now. Last year, at a two-man team event held in Scottsdale, AZ, they finished 13th out of 62 teams.

Schechterle, amazingly, has improved as a golfer since the crash. He plays at least twice a week and regularly shoots in the low 70s, which is close to being a pro. He plays with special clubs made by John Solheim at PING, a leading golf-club maker; the clubs include oversized grips, and he uses fingerless gloves to help secure the grip.

Getting back to the course and playing a sport he loves was one of the motivation factors Schechterle used in his desire to return to a normal life. “I’ve played golf my whole life. And I wasn’t going to accept shooting 90 or 100. I wanted to play well again.”

As more people learn about Schechterle’s story, he’s become a fan favorite. Purdy said that after he hit his ball near the crowd a couple of times during one round at the tournament, the fans surrounding his ball wanted to shake Schechterle’s hand.

Although there are no specific commitments to team up again beyond this week, it’s likely that Schechterle will carry the bag for Purdy on a few other occasions. Purdy says that “he’s excellent at it. Jason reads the greens well when I am putting.”

As much fun as Schechterle is having, he’s intent on increasing his motivational speaking engagements and spreading the word about his organization. He expects to give 100 or more speeches this year.

Does Schechterle’s motivation work? It did for Purdy. He had played poorly for much of 2011, but he made the cut at this event.