Golf Leads Veteran to Service Dog

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

4 min read

For Army veteran Eden, the golf course means safety.

After years of suffering in silence with an undiagnosed traumatic brain injury, he finally finds peace as his club connects with the ball — his Service Dog resting by his side.

“Golf truly gave me my life back,” he said.

Like many veterans, after the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11, Army Sergeant Eden felt called to serve his country. In 2003, he enlisted. After just a few months in basic and advanced individual training (AIT), he headed to Iraq.

“I was deployed immediately as artillery support. My unit was responsible for the initial push to Mosul.”

On his final day in Iraq, his convoy was hit by an IED. Eden sustained injuries to his knuckles, wrist, lower back and head. After months of rehabilitation, he was awarded a Purple Heart for his injuries.

Not long after, he was sent right back into combat.

This time, he would be stationed in Taji, just north of Baghdad.

Eden vividly remembers two days in particular — November 15, 2003, and November 15, 2005. Same day, two years apart. He lost 15 friends total within those 48 hours.

“The bond you form in the military is simply unbreakable, so when you lose a brother, it’s that much harder,” he said.

In 2007, Eden returned to the states, broken and defeated. He decided he needed out.

But home suddenly felt foreign.

He tried everything to fit back into the civilian world. Not sure what to do, Eden enrolled in college.

“Learning was extremely difficult for me. I would read the assignment, but I wouldn’t retain any of it. I didn’t understand why. I felt lost, and the next ten years honestly felt like a complete blur,” he said.

He bounced from job to job, even trying culinary school at one point, but nothing felt fulfilling. Eden started to withdraw.

“I began to disassociate. It wasn’t easy for me to trust or connect,” he said.

Finally, in 2017, a friend encouraged him to enroll in a veterans golf clinic from PGA pro, Juan Espejo.

“Golf felt good,” he smiled fondly. “It was the first time in a long time I could remember feeling something more.”

After finishing the clinic, Eden could hardly wait for the next.

“The golf clinic helped me see that I could win — and I really needed a win,” he said.

“Most veterans are closed off in asking for help. I got accustomed to trying to do things by myself, but I was failing – every time.”

Ten years after being injured in Afghanistan, Eden finally asked for help. Immediately upon connecting with a VA hospital, he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.

He’d been living with an undiagnosed brain injury for ten years. Everything finally started to make sense.

“I was assigned a speech pathologist who was helping me with cognitive memory. I had to relearn how to learn.”

While Eden found a home in golf, he remained closed off to the rest of the world, and he still struggled to keep a job. The countless medications he was prescribed made him feel like a zombie — until his therapist recommended a Service Dog.

“I was so excited about the potential of a Service Dog, but I didn’t just want any dog. I wanted the right dog.”

Eden found K9s For Warriors, applied, and anxiously waited to be paired with his dog.

Over the next two years, Eden stayed in constant contact with the staff at K9s, preparing for his new life.

He also found a friend in PGA pro Espejo.

“I used golf as a form of therapy,” he said. “The information I was getting from Espejo was being retained, and the product was a good golf game.”

Golf was there for him as he anxiously awaited the day he had circled on his calendar. The day he would meet his Service Dog.

“I remember not being able to sleep because I was just so excited and nervous. I just wanted the dog to love me as much as I already loved him.”

On June 3, 2019, Eden finally met Mr. Kim – a yellow Labrador retriever with a ferocious wagging tail.

“I’m a big believer in fate. I lost a lot of faith between 2007 and 2017. Getting introduced to golf led me to Mr. Kim,” he said.

Mr. Kim was named in honor of the 2018 The Players Championship winner, Si-woo Kim.

For Eden and Mr. Kim, it was love at first sight.

“The first day we were paired, we went into the dog yards on campus and played for two and a half hours straight. We were both so tired, we went back to the room, and we fell asleep — me for the first time without medication.”

After just two weeks with Mr. Kim, Eden was able to stop taking all 12 of his medications.

“I feel the zest to go out and get more out of life, especially on the golf course. I can interact with people, and deal with the crowds and truly be okay with it all.”

The pair has become inseparable. Eden has joined the Veterans Golf Association and last year earned the national title for his division. He works for a Chicago-based veteran nonprofit and helps with the PGA.

He even married the love of his life and graduated with his degree — something he once thought impossible.

Golf led Eden to Mr. Kim, and Mr. Kim helps him get through the day without medication or anxiety.

"Mr. Kim is right there with me through it all. "

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