On August 20th, Birmingham’s Chris Biggins—the number one adaptive golfer in the U.S.—will be honored at the 6th Annual United Ability Journey of HOPE presented by Medical Properties Trust. But that’s not all he will be celebrating.
Read on to learn more about Biggins’ miraculous journey, and the 6 year old protégé walking in his footsteps.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier kid.
In the parking lot of the Country Club of Birmingham, 6-year-old Shep Maddox was nearly leaping out of the family car to see Chris Biggins, his golf coach, friend and fellow traveler on the journey of hope.
Both Chris and Shep have cerebral palsy.
Smiling from ear to ear, Shep had a special gift in his hand for Chris. A piece of paper, with a heartfelt note and drawing. It said:
“Thank you Mr. Chris
Below was a self portrait of Shep putting on the green. He was bursting with joy to see Mr. Chris and learn from him.
“I remember what it was like when I was… the kid.” Biggins said about Shep. “The first time that I saw him was a couple of years ago running in circles around the entire playground at United Ability’s Hand in Hand with his walker. He was dragging his feet and smiling. Shep was put on this world to inspire people how to be athletic and how to just be happy, despite the circumstances.”
Shep Becomes a Golfer
Shep’s mother Kati Maddox shared the heartwarming story when Chris and Shep serendipitously met for the first time.
Back in May, her older son was playing a Junior Match at the Country Club of Birmingham where Chris just so happens to be Director of Player Development. It was then she learned about Chris and his disability, very much like Shep’s. Kati didn’t know Chris was nationally ranked golfer and paralympic downhill skier (a whole nother story!).
They walked up and Shep, the precocious 6 year old that he is, exclaimed — “Mr. Chris! This is Shep!”
Chris replied, “I know Shep through United Ability!”
“It was so sweet, ” described Kati. “United Ability connects people. We are all family.”
After saying hello, Chris asked if Shep could go for a ride in the golf cart with him. “I want to take you out on the course and we are going to hit some balls.”
He took Shep onto the course and gave him golf and life lessons that he’ll never forget. Shep became a lover of golf for life that day.
“I can’t get over how giving, and caring, and encouraging Chris was,” added Kati. “But the most emotional moment was while we were out with him hitting balls for the first time.”
Shep said, ”Hey, Mr. Chris, what’s wrong with your legs?”
Chris responded, “Same as yours.”
Shep answered, “Oh!”
“It was just really cool seeing Shep make that connection,” said Kati. “It was like, hey, I can be like him. I look at him doing all these amazing things. That just gives me chills. The sky’s the limit.”
Ever since that day, Chris took Shep under his wing and regularly gives him lessons.
Chris Biggins — Journey of HOPE
Despite a disability that affects his legs, Chris has always loved playing sports—especially golf. Following his passion, he attended Methodist University, a school with a legendary Division III golf team and a Professional Golf Management Program.
One of the highlights of the management program is their internship program.
During his sophomore year, Chris spent his second internship in the Magic City at the Country Club of Birmingham.
It was a troubling time for Chris.
“I was struggling with my disability. I was trying to make the college golf team but it wasn’t working out, I wasn’t playing great. My body’s condition was deteriorating, I had back pain, things were really going south. I was starting to doubt whether I should be in the golf business. My game was suffering, my confidence was suffering and it was a pretty, pretty dark place there. But then I heard about United Ability from one of the members.”
United Ability took him in, listened, and created a plan consisting of vital procedures, treatments and physical therapy. Miraculously, it worked! That summer, he was on the road to recovery. Thanks to the Country Club of Birmingham, he continued to intern there for the next two years so he could continue to use United Ability.
A Complete Turnaround
Chris described his journey from pain to promise, and how much his life changed since United Ability entered his life.
“I was in pain and my golf was getting worse—low confidence, not loving life. After United Ability? My junior and senior year of college, I made the Methodist University golf team. I made it on the very last spot my junior year, I kept improving. When I tried out the following year, I was the number one qualifier on the team my senior year.”
After Chris graduated, he returned to Birmingham to be close to United Ability and to continue working at the Country Club of Birmingham.
As a golfer, he is currently ranked 4th in the world and 1st in the U.S., according to the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability.
And remember earlier in the story when I mentioned downhill skiing? Chris joined the US Paralympic development team after he graduated and started ski racing professionally for eight years.
He is the “Bo Jackson” in the para-sports world.
Giving Back to United Ability
In the midst of playing golf, training for the paralympics in downhill skiing and working at the Club, Chris joined the United Ability Junior Board in 2015.
“Because of my involvement in the junior board, I’ve learned so much more about the organization. The Early Learning Center, Early Intervention program, the adult programs, Gone For Good and everything from top to bottom. It is such an impressive organization.”
Journey of Hope Honor
Chris shared how meaningful the Journey of HOPE honor is for him and his family.
“I was blown away because I know the previous honorees, so I feel like I have got big shoes to fill. I just remember being overwhelmed with joy and then thinking that they called the wrong person. But then, the more I thought about it, this is my chance to give back because I’ll never be able to give back to United Ability nearly as much as they have given to me. I really want to knock it out of the park.”
Chris and Shep
Back to Chris and Shep. There is something very special about the two of them together.
Both have older brothers. Their weakness from cerebral palsy is in their right leg. They both have Black Labs.
One last thing they have in common? On the day Chris will become the 6th recipient of United Ability’s Journey of HOPE honor—August 20th—Shep will celebrate his 6th birthday.
Celebrate Both Journeys On August 20th
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate BOTH their Journeys of HOPE than participating in this year’s 6th Annual Journey of HOPE at the Red Mountain Theatre Arts Campus.