KEMPNER, Texas — Larry Davis opened the door to his home in Kempner ahead of our scheduled interview, extended his hand, shook mine and smiled. He looked me in the eye, spoke softly and invited me inside.
"Are you thirsty at all," Larry asked 6 News reporter Bary Roy. "I can get you a water."
"No, I am OK," Roy said.
Larry wore a blue long-sleeved shirt and a camoflouge-colored American flag hat on his head as he waited for his in-home nurse to arrive for his scheduled treatment of medication. Larry is in the biggest fight he's ever fought.
The former Army Ranger who once jumped out of airplanes as a Radioman and fought to protect our freedoms is rolling up his sleeves to square off against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
"My wife and I would sit in here and do P-90X. I would run this neighborhood all the time," Larry said. "When I got diagnosed with ALS, and I knew something wasn't right when I was working out, I didn't have balance. My mind wasn't talking to my legs."
Larry said April 16 was the day he learned of his grim diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's disease-- a disease he'd heard of but knew nothing about.
"ALS is like a tree. That root and that spine of that tree is like your back," Larry said, extending his arms upward to simulate a tree trunk. "The limbs that come off the tree is kind of like your arms and legs. Basically, what happens, when it stops the communications from that spine, your limbs break off. So there goes your legs, there goes your arms, and then there goes your chest, which kills you."
"It's gut-wrenching. It was my worst fear," said Janel Davis, Larry's wife. "This is the love of my life, you know, this is our baby's hero. Words can't even, I can't even find the words to explain."
Larry and Janel have a long history. They were high school sweethearts who drifted apart when he joined the military after high school.
"We had broken up and the next thing I knew he had joined the military and left town," Janel said. "We ran into each other a year later, spent a couple hours talking and the next day he left for Korea. He found me again 23 years later on Facebook and we fell back in love."
Larry and Janel were married in 2014 and had their daughter, Brooke.
As his little girl played and ate dry cereal out of a bowl on the couch next to him, Larry said the reality of it all is hard to comprehend.
"It was kind of a shock. It was kind of hard to swallow," he said about learning of his diagnosis. "If you know that your life is at the end of your tunnel, you don't have much longer to live."
With a body beginning to break down, Larry said he could no longer do the things he liked to do, including his favorite sport. Golf became impossible because he could no longer balance.
"'I see you have ALS. Do you like to play golf?'" Larry said as he recalled a phone call he received from the Temple VA Hospital. "I told them, 'I love to play golf but I can't play anymore. I can't help my balance, I can't hold my clubs, I can't stand.'"
Kevin McJunkin is a man who changed Larry's life by introducing him to the Stand Up and Play Organization and a new chair that would allow Larry to stand up and play the sport he loves once again.
"My golf clubs were in my attic. They had dust on it from two years ago," Larry said. "When they said I could go use this chair, I had my neighbor come pull my clubs down for me, threw them in the back of the truck and I went and tried that chair out."
The Stand Up and Play Organization is a non-profit that is made up of volunteers who donate their time and efforts to make active standing therapy a reality for everyone with mobility challenges. The organization, along with the Gary Sinise Foundation, Hardees for Heroes and the Robert Irvine Foundation, made two free paramobile chairs available at Fort Hood for veterans who need them.
"He didn't think he would ever play golf again and then this call comes out of the blue and, oh my gosh, he had the opportunity and it truly was a game-changer," Janel said.
"You're going to watch your buddies go play, your co-workers go play, and you use to go with them and whoop them all the time," Larry said. "It's devastating when you can't play anymore but when I sat down in that chair, it was like, 'Oh, it's on now.'"
"Whatever you can do standing up, you can do in this chair," said McJunkin, who also uses the chair. "The first time I met Larry and he got on the para-golfer and he hit the first couple golf balls, the smile on his face made my day."
Larry met Kevin and Bary at the Clear Creek Golf Course at Fort Hood two weeks ago for a day on the links. Larry, beaming with excitement to strap on the gloves and get to work, was in for a surprise.
"You talk about it making your heart happy," Bary said about the para-golfer chairs at Fort Hood."But what if I told you I need you to stand up one more time?"
"I'd do it in a minute," Larry said.
6 News reporter Bary Roy called Anthony Netto, the inventor of the Paragolfer chair and the Stand Up and Play Foundation, helping to coordinate the moment when Larry was surprised with his very own chair. That moment, a chance for Larry to reclaim a life he's quickly losing before it's too late.
"Um, it's pretty emotional," Larry said with tears in his eyes after playing golf in his brand new chair. "This gift is actually a complete life changer for me to be able to stand up and do the things I love to do."
While golfing, hunting and being outdoors is where Larry wants to be, he said to be able to play with his daughter again, walk around the neighborhood with his wife, it's those things he can't wait for when the sun comes up.
"I'm going to put my mark in this chair and it's going to go on to the next person and the next person's going to know who I am," he said with a smile.
As it will happen, as it does for all ALS patients, when that time comes when Larry’s body breaks down, his golf swing fails and life changes forever -- this chair of his will give life to someone else who needs it more than he does.
"Hopefully they can keep the chair for life, unlike I am. But I hope they get to keep this chair," he said. "So, enjoy these chairs, if they are getting donated to you, please, take care of them, enjoy them and go play golf."
If you would like more information on the Stand Up and Play Foundation, or if you would like to find out how a Paragolf chair can help you or your loved one, you can call Kevin McJunkin at (254) 317-1657 or send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Stand Up and Play Foundation is strictly volunteer-based and all the money raised to build the chairs, raised on their own. If you would like to help with the cause, you can reach Anthony at email@example.com, he would like to hear from you.
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