Saturday 22 November 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
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.

"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."

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