published Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Jordan Thomas' foundation has global scope

  • photo
    Jordan Thomas, former McCallie golfer, practices at Bear Trace Golf Course for a potential run at the 2016 Paralympics.
    Photo by David Uchiyama /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Jordan Thomas steered the golf cart right instead of left as he approached the 18th hole at the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay.

The teeing ground that day was set to the left and closer to the hole. The former McCallie golfer chuckled and said, "Let's see what it's like from way back here."

His term of "way back here" is one teeing ground beyond where professionals play during a Nationwide Tour qualifying event.

Thomas used a driver, then a 7-iron and two-putted for par on the hole, which plays 495 yards from those tees.

Only about 5 percent -- maybe less -- of the golfers in this country could accomplish that feat with those clubs. Even fewer could do it with Thomas' handicap. He lost his legs below the knees in a boating accident almost seven years ago.

"It's amazing, really," said Bear Trace assistant professional Heath Pendergraft. "I can't imagine having prosthetics and being able to transfer weight and being able to move the right side through the ball.

"There are Nationwide Tour guys who can't do that with two good legs and plus-handicap."

Thomas made those shots in a casual round last week without having played or practiced for weeks. He doesn't play much golf during the school year, even though he attends Rollins College near the many courses around Orlando, Fla. His academics -- he had a 3.9 grade point average in the spring semester -- and the Jordan Thomas Foundation take precedent.

Thomas said he may sharpen his golf skills to make a run at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, following the Olympics. Golf will be included for the first time.

But that's four years away.

And if his future summers are as busy as the one he has coming this year, Thomas may not have the time to play or practice the sport.

"I'm going on a road trip to California; then I'm going to Costa Rica for three weeks for an international business school trip. I'm going to Iceland to see a friend, then Germany to see a friend," Thomas said. "Then I'm off to Nepal to hopefully open up a prosthetics lab in Katmandu."

Thomas started his foundation while recovering from the traumatic loss of his legs, which were caught up in a boat propeller.

Since 2005, he has helped children all across the globe get access to prosthetics. He was CNN Hero in 2009 and has earned numerous awards for his dedication to charity.

Thomas began undergraduate studies at the College of Charleston, took some time off, then transferred to Rollins, which has enhanced his foundation.

"Everyone there wants me to succeed, and they've given me the perspective of global citizenship," Thomas said. "The need is everywhere in the world, because to me a kid is a kid is a kid. Give a kid a chance, no matter where they are."

Thomas came across the idea of assisting children in Nepal after meeting a classmate who does health clinics there. Thomas asked about prosthetics and was appalled by the answer.

"I said, 'We developed a good model in Haiti and we have a lab there that we created after the earthquake, so why don't we export that model to Nepal and see how that works,'" Thomas said. "That's going to be a big opportunity for us this summer."

His summer charity will continue.

"We're trying to get prosthetic teams -- like mission teams that you send to different parts of the world -- with prosthetic kits from the Red Cross," Thomas said. "That's our next big move."

Thomas began his foundation with the thought of helping a few kids, here and there, get affordable -- or free -- prosthetics to improve their day-to-day lives. Now he's doing that all over the Earth.

"It has come way beyond anything I ever imagined," Thomas said. "It's given me that sense of purpose and motivation when days are rough.

"I have bad days, too. But with perspective, it's still a win to be here."

Whether Thomas plays in the 2016 Paralympics or not, he's worthy of a gold medal.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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