29 Jun 2023 | Amateur golf |

Ethan's story: A triumph over adversity

by Martin Blake

Ethan Hunter image
Ethan Hunter has come to love his golf at North Haven.

Ethan Hunter is the junior champion at North Haven Golf Club in outer north-western Adelaide, which is impressive in itself. That he’s profoundly deaf and dealing with various intellectual disabilities only adds a level of inspiration to his golfing story.

Ethan, a 14-year-old from Taperoo in suburban Adelaide, is just more than two years into a golfing journey that is just beginning.

He took up the game around 11 through MyGolf, the Golf Australia participation program for kids, at the suggestion of his golfing parents, Natalie Veale and Wayne Hunter, who thought it might be good for him.

Tall for his age and challenged by his disabilities, he was not necessarily an overnight sensation when he turned up at North Haven.

“It was tricky, like anything else in life,” said his mother. “He was just awkward about everything.”

Christine Burton, the PGA Professional at North Haven who oversaw that MyGolf clinic, remembers him struggling. “It took him a while to engage,” she said. “His body was so much bigger than he could cope with, and his motor skills were underdeveloped.”

But with time, he began improving under Burton’s guidance.

Intense physiotherapy and occupational health treatment were employed to help him to grip the club and improve his motor skills. “We really started from scratch,” said Natalie Veale. “Fortunately, Ethan understands that golf’s not a game that you can walk in and be good at. He knows that you have to practise.”

Says Ethan: “When I first started I was a little confused, but I just got lucky, hit one over a bunker and that was it. Beginner’s luck, I guess! I just got into it which is really exciting.”

Fast forward to April this year and Ethan Hunter defeated all comers at the club’s junior championship over two days.

In his speech, he thanked those who had helped him, notably Burton. “He surprised me with that speech,” recalls Burton, who has been a brilliant mentor. “He’s the life of the party once he gets to know everyone. I was so proud of him coming from nowhere to win a club championship in only two years.”

“I cried,” said Natalie Veale about that moment at North Haven. “As you do as a parent. Just the way he spoke and how well he spoke about everyone who’d helped him, and it was not pre-empted. Because we hadn’t expected him to win even though he was leading after the first day. We’d told him that someone else might come along and win.”

Ethan’s disabilities include deafness (he wears bilateral hearing aids) which is inherited. His sister Hollie also is deaf and his mother was afflicted, too. He has sensory seeking-processing disorder, regulation difficulties, respiratory issues, dysgraphia, expressive language delay, severe phonological processing delay and awareness, articulation disorder, fine motor skills limitation, gross motor delay and specific learning disorder.

To PGA Professional Burton, golf is a great sport in helping people with disability to get on with their lives.

“You don’t have to be a natural,” she said. “Because you can be taught, technically. There are so many areas where golf can teach a young person, in terms of competition, in terms of resilience, patience, never quitting, manners, sportsmanship.

“Golf grabs hold of people and there’s the competitive element and the camaraderie kicks in and all of a sudden there’s a skill set that lasts a lifetime.”

Ethan, who is in year eight at Immanuel College in Adelaide, has been using second-hand clubs (gifted to him by Greg Birch, the North Haven club president) in the early phase of his golf.

But he is about to pick up a brand, spanking new kit thanks to the people at Variety SA, the childrens' charity which has put him on a scholarship.

The money also will enable him to take up some individual tuition and potentially to take up some playing opportunities at a higher level.

“A lot of people have been kind and friendly to me,” said Ethan Hunter. “Golf’s good because you can play by yourself, or you can interact with others. Golf is about calm, and it’s made me more calm. I can talk to people a lot easier now. I have friends when I didn’t have many before.”

He’s come a long way. “We were told that Ethan wouldn’t be able to play sport, or particularly team sport,” said Natalie Veale. “We were told that he wouldn’t be able to grasp the concept of hitting.”

Moreover, he has grown as a person.

“He’s being seen for once,” said Natalie Veale. People see him now, if you know what I mean. He had never found his people before. But he’s found his likeness now. He’s made friends, and that’s beautiful. He’s engaging and communicating socially and he’s interacting with peers. He’s got friends, he’s got confidence and he’s got better fitness. It’s brought him right out of his shell.”

Ethan Hunter preso image
Ethan Hunter (with his junior competitors) celebrates his club championship.

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