Doctors may have expected him to die, but Holbert, it turns out, is a contrarian. Less then two months after his last surgery and against the better judgment of his medical team, he was part of a 12-man, 200-mile relay from Gettysburg to Washington, D.C., after which he raced the Army Ten-Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon—all in his wheelchair.
He has less use for the chair on the golf course. While many double amputees play by strapping themselves into a miniature cart called a Paragolfer, Holbert prefers to stand. With a cane in his left hand providing a third point of contact with the ground, he takes a robust cut at the ball with his right hand. He is consistent and surprisingly long off the tee—between 175 and 200 yards. He also hits it straight, still something of a novelty for him. Diaz gives him grief about a round the two played at Fort Bragg, when Holbert took out the windshield of a moving vehicle with one of his epic slices.
"My goal is to not be in that chair anymore," says Holbert. "When I fly, and they offer me a wheelchair, I say, 'No, thank you, I'll walk onto the plane.'"
The doctors and therapists and counselors "do great stuff," he acknowledges. "But they always want to be sure it's safe and structured and, like, nurturing. Some of us want to be pushed. I would like to be pushed."
As he works his way through a large bucket, his angelic, four-year-old daughter, Isabelle, sits in his wheelchair like a tiny princess on her throne.
At least someone's using it.
Army Spc. Nathan Kalwicki was shot four times last Christmas Eve by an Afghan soldier whose unit was training with his platoon. The assumed undercover Taliban was quickly shot dead, but not before wounding Kalwicki and several platoon mates. Kalwicki went through 47 units of blood. The docs saved his life, but they couldn't save his right leg.
He turned 21 last week. "I was old enough to get shot," he quips. "Now I'm old enough to buy a beer." Kalwicki was a member of the golf team at Griffith Institute High in Springville, N.Y. He was also an avid weightlifter. Before he was wounded, he was a buffed out 190 pounds. Returning to the driving range in March, he weighed 150. He was whiffing, uncomfortable, frustrated and cold.
Slowly, with the help of his SMGA-assigned pro and a prosthetic featuring, among other things, a "golf mode" (it bends during his backswing and follow-through), he started to find his old swing. "I'm actually hitting it pretty well now," says Kalwicki. He's uncomfortable in bunkers—"I'm sliding all over the place"—and can't hit his driver. Then again, he never could. But he's happy to have this game, this familiar touchstone, back in his life. Usually. At the last clinic, someone to Kalwicki's left kept shanking balls in his direction, even grazing his back on one occasion. Kalwicki was not amused. After what he's been through, he says, "I don't feel like getting hit by a golf ball."
Bates has been philosophical about his missing limb. "I didn't have to go to Afghanistan. I volunteered. I transferred to that unit so I could go over there. It's a hazardous job. It happens. So I kind of accepted it and immediately moved forward."