PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — One year and six days after suffering a life-altering spinal injury, Nick Pease approached the first tee box at Platteville Golf and Country Club.
He lifted himself out of a specially designed golf cart, methodically took a few steps forward and leaned down to tee up his ball.
Pease paused briefly to maintain his balance before unleashing a steady swing and driving the ball down the fairway.
The drive didn’t quite get the distance he desired, but Pease, 36, still cracked a smile. This wasn’t about reaching the green, after all. It was about keeping his word.
“Last year, this tournament happened right after my injury,” said Pease, of Platteville. “I was telling everyone that I would be back, that I would be here and I’d be golfing again by the time (the 2021) tournament came around. This is a big deal for me.”
Friday’s outing was merely a tune-up for the tournament that will be held today at the Platteville course. The annual tournament is hosted by The Public House and Nick’s, a pair of Platteville bars owned by Pease. More than 150 people are slated to attend this year.
For Pease, today marks a major milestone in an improbable recovery.
He sustained a severe spinal injury on July 10, 2020, after attempting a backflip on a trampoline while he was at a friend’s house. Pease broke his C4 and C5 vertebrae.
Doctors initially provided a grim outlook, telling him he should prepare to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
In no uncertain terms, Pease told the doctor that he was unwilling to accept that reality.
“My girlfriend and I basically said, ‘No, I am going to walk again,’” Pease recalled. “That’s just what we decided was going to happen.”
The past year has been marked by slow but steady recovery, prompting doctors to upgrade Pease’s long-term outlook along the way.
Pease acknowledged that therapy often can be frustrating, with even the smallest of gains requiring immense work and dedication. In the most difficult moments, he thinks of his two greatest sources of inspiration.
“I have a couple kids: one son who just turned 6 and another who is a year and a half,” Pease said. “That drives me more than anything.”
One of the most meaningful moments in Pease’s recovery occurred when he was finally able to pick up his infant son, a task made possible after he worked to increase the strength and mobility of his hands.
Medical professionals still anticipate that Pease will need some kind of walking assistance for the remainder of his life. Once again, though, he isn’t listening.
“My goal now is to get to complete recovery,” Pease said.
Reflecting on his progress, Pease doles out the majority of the credit to the friends and family who rallied around him.
He said his girlfriend, Jackie Baumgart, reinforced his stubborn belief that a major recovery was possible. A group of friends, meanwhile, helped him renovate his home and manage his business affairs as he embarked on his recovery.
Brandon Gaston befriended Pease years ago when he started bartending for him. He now manages both bars and, over the past year, has made a concerted effort to make sure his friend is focusing on what matters most.
“We wanted to make sure he had nothing to worry about at the bars,” Gaston said. “We basically said, ‘You need to focus on your recovery and your family, and we’ll take care of the rest.’”
Gaston also is among a small group of friends who have brought Pease to his therapy appointments. He said it has been “a privilege” to be there for the sessions.
“He gets frustrated with it, but anyone would,” Gaston said. “It is crazy how far he has come. It is actually hard to believe.”
That sense of amazement is echoed by the professionals who have worked with Pease along the way. Chad Remmert, director of business development at Clark & Associates Prosthetics and Orthotics, joined Pease on the golf course Friday.
Clark & Associates, which has an office in Dubuque, provided Pease with an ankle-foot orthotic, which helps Pease maintain balance and conserve energy while golfing. Remmert also helped Pease obtain a special golf cart for the tournament. Donated by Husome Strong Foundation, the cart was designed so it can drive on golf greens or tee boxes without damaging the turf, allowing users to navigate the course without needing to walk long distances.
As Remmert watched Pease tee off Friday, he remarked on the hard work and tireless resolve that had made the moment possible.
“When he was told walking was not an option, he wasn’t willing to accept that,” Remmert said. “It is amazing the determination he has had. What he is doing is a near miracle in my eyes.”