Health

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Golf lover has Parkinson's disease all down to a tee

It seemed that David Rock's promising career as a golfer was wrecked after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. But 15 years later, he's married with four children and has returned to the sport he loves

David Rock

Though he must have been one of the youngest people in Ireland to get Parkinson's disease (PD), golfer David Rock has never lost a night's sleep because of it. On the contrary, some 15 years later, he is thriving, and he believes that a good attitude plays an important role in general health.

David, one of seven children, grew up in Finglas, north Dublin. "The people on our road had a great sense of community. I played a lot of sport, especially hurling and football," he says.

After school, he went to work for the Open Golf Centre, near Dublin airport. Suddenly, a whole new world was opening up for him. But he didn't fall into this scene by accident – his dad, who had a motorbike shop in Fairview, had been assembling golf clubs for years.

"I never actually saw one," David says. "But I'd really love to get hold of one of his putters or wedges."

At the club, David worked in the shop, helped organise competitions and got to play golf – a lot.

"They gave me free membership – I never thought I'd be a member of a golf club. Where I came from, it was difficult to get involved in the sport as it was expensive," he says.

Just 18 months later, David's handicap was down to three. He modestly ascribes this to "good coaching", "terrific" people at the club and unlimited access to the facilities.

He says he will be eternally grateful to his dad for the interest he planted, and to his sister, Christine, who helped him get the job at the club.

Just before his 21st birthday, David turned professional and began a three-year course, as required by the Professional Golf Association (PGA). "You do golf and business studies, golf repairs, and so on. Basically, it teaches you how to run a golf shop," David says.

He explains that being a club-based golf pro is a very different to being a player like Padraig Harrington. "The guys who go on tour just play golf, and get paid a bit better," he explains.

However, around the time that he turned professional, a tremor in David's hand caused him to see a consultant neurologist, who asked him questions, before doing some tests and declaring, "Unlikely as it might seem [in one so young], I think you have PD."

David was then referred to a neurologist at the Mater Hospital. Since there is no specific test for PD, the only way to achieve a diagnosis is to eliminate other possible causes for the symptoms and, having done that, the consultant was able to confirm his colleague's suspicions.

"PD is the second most common neuro-degenerative disease after Alzheimer's," David explains. "It's a progressive disease, for which there is, currently, no cure."

According to the Parkinson's Association of Ireland, it is caused by a shortage of dopamine-producing cells in the brain, which, in turn, affects movement throughout the body. The first sign may be a tremor in a hand or a limb, but this only occurs in about 70 per cent of cases. Other symptoms may include slowing or loss of movement, and rigidity. Mood changes can also be involved.

David says that, while symptoms vary considerably from person to person, there are some effective treatments.

"The medication is all about tricking your body into thinking there's enough dopamine – or about topping it up.

"The medication can give you side effects. In my case, I get hallucinations – I sometimes see and hear people who are not there, but I have learned to cope with that," he says.

Perhaps the secret to David's unequivocal acceptance of his condition stems from his extremely laid-back nature.

"I've always said, if someone in my family had to get PD, then I'm glad it's me," he says. "I don't see the point in sitting in a corner, moaning about it. There are people out there with much bigger problems than me – you see kids with terrible illnesses."

Having this condition doesn't seem to have stood in the way of David achieving any of his goals. Six years ago, he starting dating a girl he'd known for quite some time, called Celine Barry.

As their love deepened, David wondered how to break the news to Celine. "I didn't tell her straight away – that was one of the things I never knew how to do," he says.

Well, here's how he eventually did tell her: David was on a golfing holiday in Portugal with friends. He had a few too many drinks at a pub that has a balcony with a tree growing through it. David climbed on to a branch of the tree and called Celine, who was back home in Ireland, and put his cards on the table.

When he returned home, they had a proper discussion, and she decided – like the song – to stand by her man.

But it hasn't all been plain sailing. At one point, David was advised to give up golf, and he did so, but not for long.

The lure of golf was too strong. So, he got a job at a golf shop and, sometime later, was hired by McGuirks Golf in Blanchardstown.

"They knew I had PD. I was in sales and loved it. I was there for 12 years," he says.

Three years ago, David took redundancy, and now runs his own business, called Total Golf Ireland, in Celbridge, while working part time at McGuirks, custom-fitting golf clubs for clients. He is also assistant professional at the County Meath Golf Club in Trim, while simultaneously doing his three-year golfing degree, which he abandoned following his diagnosis.

He is now married to the lovely Celine, has four beautiful children, and is doing work that he loves.

"I think becoming a pro before I was 21 was unusual," he says. "I didn't do well in competition – I was too inexperienced and too nervous. I'm probably playing better golf now than ever before. I don't know if that's because I'm getting older, or because of having kids. I think maybe it's because I've studied golf so much over the years."

David now plays off a scratch or zero handicap, but whatever the reasons for his improved game, David feels that "his time" has come. "I'm going to win something this year. I'm determined because I know it will help others," he says. "If I can show people that I have had Parkinson's for longer than most people, and I'm not letting it stop me doing anything, then that should give them hope."

To contact David Rock, email david@totalgolfireland.com

Parkinson's Association of Ireland helpline, Carmichael Centre, Nth Brunswick St, D7, tel: (1800) 359-359, or see www.parkinsons.ie

To make a donation, text the word PARKINSONS to 50300

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