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Fallen Rollins Gets Back Up

Golf knocks everybody to the ground at some point. It’s part of the game’s maddening appeal. How we get up tells us a lot about ourselves.
But for retired Air Force Master Sergeant Mike Rollins, the ups and downs of the game are not metaphors. “I fall a lot but not as much as I used to,” Rollins said from his home in Valdosta, Ga., where he lives with Peggy, his wife of 20 years. “There were times when I would fall in a bunker and couldn’t get out. I would cry but Peggy said, ‘That’s enough, you’ve got to get up.’ So I rolled around and got up.” Then he paused and in just above a whisper, he said,
“You have to get up.”
Those words hung heavy. In 2003, three months into the Iraq War, Rollins, a 26-year Air Force veteran, was delivering munitions in Baghdad when his unit came under intense mortar fire. After the first wave of explosions, Rollins ran forward to assist the wounded when he was caught in another blast. He didn’t lose any limbs and for a while he didn’t know that anything was wrong. Then he lost sight in one eye, began stumbling and falling and started forgetting things. Suddenly he couldn’t read or write and his cognitive skills slipped away.
“That’s what happens with traumatic brain injury,” he said in the slow, practiced voice of a man who knows that he doesn’t process language like he used to. “I can’t drive anymore because I lost a car. I went to the barber shop and walked home. I can’t handle money. I forget things.”
But he can play golf. As he was being treated in the Department of Defense Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center in San Antonio, Texas, Rollins went back to the game after a two-decade hiatus, heading out to the base course with other patients. “The reason I started playing again was because if you played golf you got a day pass from the hospital to go outside,” he said.


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