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Stacey Camacho never imagined the game he loved would also save him.
But after suffering a stroke in March 2015 at age 36, the assistant golf pro at Nibley Park Golf Course applied his years of golf practice to his recovery.
"Six months after my stroke I forced myself back on the course. I had to learn how to march and chip and do everything over again," Camacho said Friday. "Golf is a dynamic game and that is why it's so huge in helping you (after a stroke)."
Camacho and other area golf pros offered guidance and knowledge Friday morning to more than 30 stroke survivors and their caregivers gathered at Nibley Park golf Course in Salt Lake City as part of the American Stroke Association's annual Saving Strokes Golf Clinic.
Strokes occur after one or more blood vessels in the brain rupture or are blocked by a clot, causing vessels and brain cells to die for lack of necessary oxygen and nutrients, according to the American Stroke Association. The group estimates that nearly 800,000 U.S. residents will have a new or recurrent stroke this year.
For the last nine years, the Saving Strokes Golf Clinic has offered an alternative outlet of physical rehabilitation for stroke survivors. Attendees practice putting, driving and chipping to help them work on focus, dexterity and balance skills critical to stroke recovery.
With so much variation in recovery and physical ability among stroke survivors, Nora Perry said golf pros and on-site physical therapists help each golfer modify their individual swings and skills. Many survivors are limited to one-arm swings and have poor cross-body movement after losing function, feeling or strength in one side of their bodies.
"This is an event where survivors and caregivers can come work on rehab and recovery in a social and fun way," said Perry, stroke initiatives director for the American Heart and American Stroke Association. "Golf is one of those sports that is really accessible to everyone."
The annual clinic is a way for stroke survivor Paul Shino, 66, to revisit a game he played at least once a week for much of his life. Shino had a stroke about eight years ago and now relies on a wheelchair.
Although the stroke never broke his positive spirit, his wife, Valerie, said the clinic gave Shino back an important piece of what he had before.
"Obviously you have to alter your life, but you don't have to stop living it," she said. "It doesn't have to define who you are."
Camacho volunteered to help stroke survivors in the years prior to his own stroke and picked it up again has he fought to recovery. Working with others now, he said, has boosted his appreciation for golf but also for his own life experience.
"It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't had a stroke what it's like to relearn basic skills," Camacho said. "When you lose something like your grip or balance, it's sometimes hard to find it again.
"I now understand what they are going through," he said, "and can help them more because I went through the same thing."