At first glance, Ross is your typical unassuming 14-year-old who likes catching up with his friends and loves supporting his local football club, Watford FC. But if you look a bit deeper you’ll discover the difficult yet incredibly brave journey this teenager from Hertfordshire is currently undertaking.
In February 2012 Ross’ dad suddenly passed away after a heart attack, leaving his mum Teresa to raise Ross and his older brother George, now 16, on her own. Just four years later Ross became sick with an illness that baffled local doctors for a number of weeks before he was eventually diagnosed with leukaemia in March 2016. Treatment was started immediately with Ross spending most of the year in hospital, three months of which were in isolation. In August of 2016 Ross received a bone marrow transplant from George.
“With only one sibling and a 25 percent chance of George being a match, Ross was lucky to have his brother as the donor,” explains Teresa.
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Sport had always been an important part of Ross’ life. Once a keen football player who loved training and playing matches at the weekend, Ross was forced to give up the sport due to the limitations of his illness. A consequence his mum says was really hard for the teenager. Wanting to find an activity that would help him stay fit and still challenge him, Ross rediscovered the game of golf which gave him the perfect balance of physical fitness without being too strenuous.
After having his PICC line removed in April last year Ross got straight to work on the golf course. Hitting the driving range and practicing his swing soon helped to give the 14-year-old a new and exciting focus.
“After a few lessons and as he practiced regularly his swing improved and his enjoyment grew. It made him feel like he was achieving something,” says Teresa. Adding, “The fact that golf is out in the open and a low impact sport, which he can do at his own pace, makes it the perfect sport for Ross.”
Ross’ main focus now is to build up enough endurance to play 18 holes. Whenever he has the time Ross is working hard on the course to achieve this goal, a challenge he feels he is steadily winning.
“It is dependent on the weather, [but] I play most weekends if it’s warm enough and practice at the driving range most days when the weather is good,” says Ross.
And when he eventually gets to his goal, where is Ross’ dream place to play?
“There’s too many amazing golf courses to choose from!” says Ross.
Due to the vulnerability of his immune system, Ross hasn’t been able to attend school since February 2016. But he is determined to not let that affect his studies. In order to keep on top of his GCSEs, the 14-year-old is educated at home and is able to access lessons remotely, which has been a real lifeline for him.
As well as being great for his health, hitting the driving range is a safe way for Ross to hang out with his friends with the added benefit of him being the best golfer out of the group (trust us - this kid’s got a pretty tidy swing).
Teresa says, “One of the hardest aspects [of his illness] for him is not being able to just get on with a normal life and it has been very isolating for him. But the friends that came to visit him in the hospital and those that have been to visit once he’s been home have really helped him.”
In October 2017 Ross received the trip of a lifetime to Orlando courtesy of Dreamflight. Dreamflight is a UK charity that takes a group of seriously ill or disabled children, without their parents, to Florida each year to experience the incredible parks the area has to offer, including Disney World, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Seaworld. What was supposed to be a one-off trip in 1986 has now become an annual pilgrimage for founder Patricia Pearce MBE.
“The children gain so much from each other, not from us adults,” explains Pearce. “When you put 192 children, all on one aircraft, with something wrong with every single one, there is no odd one out. They come back with so much more confidence and realise that they can go on and achieve in life.”
Former Dreamflight children are definitely making their mark on the world, having won 37 Paralympic medals, two of the children have also gone on to become professional golfers!
“Having been so restricted for so long, it was such an amazing thing [for Ross] to do,” explains Teresa. “Dreamflight gave him the chance to be a carefree 14-year-old and have so much fun with his peers, which most children would just take for granted. It really was a trip of a lifetime.”
The amazing experience also had one other perk for Ross who got the chance to meet English golfer Ian Poulter while he was there. Poulter came to be involved with the charity through his caddie, Terry Mundy who is a friend of Pearce. The golfer has become an important figure for Dreamflight and is known for making an appearance in Orlando to visit the children.
“He is a fantastic Patron and is very generous with his time and with organising fundraising golf events,” says Pearce.
You can readily see how much the trip meant to Ross whose face instantly lights up when recalling all the incredible activities he got to experience. With his favourite being able to swim with the dolphins in Discovery Cove.
“You get treated like VIPs!” says Ross excitedly. “You don’t have to queue for rides and even get a chance to go on them twice.”
After a friend told Teresa about GolfOnline’s flagship store in Stanmore they decided to visit us late last year. Because our business is mainly online, Teresa felt GolfInStore was a fairly quiet and therefore safe environment to bring Ross. After chatting with our store manager Darren, Ross was soon testing out his skills in the golf simulator. The shop has become a place the teenager can enjoy wandering around and he loves trying out all the different putters on the practice green.
“Ross has endured so much,” Teresa explains. “The treatment is really gruelling, both physically and emotionally, but he has amazed so many people as to how he has kept on being positive and smiling!”
From the moment you meet Ross you can tell he is a special kid. Despite the obstacles he has already faced in his young life he continues to approach each day with a positive outlook and an even bigger smile.
“No matter what life throws at you,” Ross says, “you need to be willing to catch it and make the most out of the opportunities you are given.”
Inspiring words from a young man we could all learn a thing or two from. But after getting to know his mum it’s not really all that surprising. Teresa is as equally inspiring as her son. Taking on all life has thrown her way and more than rising to the challenge.
“It is really hard sometimes, but my advice [to other parents] would be to try and be as positive as possible and take one day at a time especially when things are particularly tough,” she says.
“A saying that I think has helped me is ‘Don’t wait for the storm to pass, but learn to dance in the rain.’ Sometimes it has been really tough and we haven’t felt like ‘dancing’ but we’ve tried to embrace this journey as best as we can.”
Teresa is quick to point out the positives of their journey and cites the “amazing” people they have met along the way.
“Ross has had the most fantastic care at University College Hospital both on the ward T12 North and at the Macmillan Daycare Centre. The nurses, doctors and consultants are so dedicated and have been truly amazing and we will always be so grateful to them.”
With a bit of grace but most of all the perseverance to see the good in each day, Ross, Teresa and George serve as an inspiration to all families facing their share of challenges. We love everything about golf but in Ross we see the amazing impact this game can have on someone’s soul. So what does he love most about the sport?
“The satisfaction of hitting the perfect shot!”
Us too Ross.
If you would like to learn more about Dreamflight and the incredible work they do, please visit their website dreamflight.org. To donate to Dreamflight click here.