There’s Fighting for Your Life...and Then There’s Golf

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By Sherry Metzger, MS

A New Zealand motorcycle tour ended in tragedy when one of the nine riders collided with an oncoming vehicle in December 2001. Rick Weber, 49, recalls how a series of "lucky" events saved his life that day, though efforts couldn't save his left leg. Since his amputation, Weber remarkably continues to pursue and excel at many of the activities he has always enjoyed.

Weber explains that early decisions made by the first rescuers were crucial to his survival. "I had been extremely lucky that the people in the area were the 'can-do' type," he says. "They are rural people and they are used to doing things for themselves. Those are the type of people you want taking care of you."

The accident happened near the top of a mountain in a rainstorm, and it was clear that he would not survive an ambulance ride. However, a helicopter rescue was complicated by poor visibility and landing conditions. Rescuers made the quick decision to take Weber to a farm where there was a small weather clearing.

Due to their assistance that day, Weber, a restaurant manager for a seaside resort in Ocean City, Maryland, was able to travel back to New Zealand in 2004 to thank everyone involved in his rescue and to finish the tour. "It was a three-and-a-half week tour of both the South and North Islands. The accident happened on the second day of our North Island tour, and I wanted to see the whole country," he says. "Though I had to promise my mother I would rent a car this time."

New Zealanders Pour Out Hearts

Amazingly, Weber located each person, from the first woman on the scene to the airline attendant who changed his flight plans home, and thanked each one personally. "There was only one man I couldn't find. He took off his belt and applied a tourniquet to my severed leg," he says. "I wanted to show each one what they did for me. I spent three months in a hospital there, and the townspeople loved me and embraced everyone who came from the States to visit me. They brought fruit baskets, took my family to dinner, bought my friends drinks, and gave them free taxi rides. My return was heartwarming for all."

Shortly after the accident, Weber was fitted with an Ossur Total Knee® 2000 prosthetic leg. "I was thrilled to have it," he says. "I wanted to get back to life." He has since been fitted with an Otto Bock C-Leg® that has improved his ability to keep up with the busy restaurant. "We do a staggering amount of business at the restaurant I manage, and the C-Leg helps me keep my balance or stop quickly when a child races in front of me," he says. "I had to fight my insurance company for a year and a half to get the C-Leg, but it was well worth the fight, and I would encourage others to fight [for the appropriate prosthesis]." Weber's goal is to own and manage his own restaurant, a dream of his for more than 30 years.

'Reality TV' Golf Challenge

In May, Weber was one of 29 golfers chosen from over 1,400 applicants to participate in the nationally televised St. Joseph's Aspirin Pressure Challenge held, coincidentally, in his hometown of Ocean City.

"I submitted my application online and told my story," he says. "I was surprised to be chosen for an audition." The audition consisted of a panel of PGA pros who evaluated his ability and a camera crew who interviewed him. The Challenge, which aired live on CBS on May 20, was formatted like a reality television show, in which the contestants were filmed at every hole. Contestants vied for the grand prize of $250,000 by attempting to par nine consecutive holes at The Links at Lighthouse Sound. After each successful par, contestants could choose to leave with their winnings or risk them by moving to the next hole for a chance to win even more.

When asked during the television interview what he'd do with the money he could potentially win, Weber said he would give it to the hospital in New Zealand that cared for him after the accident free of charge. "Only three competitors went further on the course than I did. I bogeyed [one golf score over par] on the fourth hole and didn't win a thing," he laughs. "But it was never about the money."

Weber had quite a crowd cheering him on. Even the announcers felt his magic, saying, "We haven't had any other competitors who've enjoyed this experience as much as Rick." When asked, "What's your handicap," Weber looked down at his prosthetic limb and joked, "You've got to be kidding me!" Contestants were asked their definition of pressure, and Weber responded, "Pressure is fighting for your life and getting [it] back. I've faced the pressure; this is just golf."