Futures Tour Member Carries World View To Next Tee

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Futures TourPerhaps it hit her, right there in the middle of the riverbed. Futures Golf Tour member Jennifer Greggain rode on the back of a kind-hearted Haitian man to the banks of the other side. This riverbed was dry when she had walked across earlier in the day to volunteer her services in a medical clinic. Now, she was being ferried back across as afternoon rainwater had filled the earthen crease, prompting this chivalrous gesture by the wading man.

Jennifer GreggainBefore she ever arrived in the Caribbean, Greggain had imagined Haiti, ravaged by floodwaters from September hurricanes that killed nearly 2,000 residents, reducing squalor to further desperation. In September, while she played the lush fairways of Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., she daydreamed about what she might encounter, wondering what she could offer the island's needy inhabitants and how she would be accepted.

Greggain advanced into next month's LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament in Florida at that California Sectional qualifier, and she did it thinking all the thoughts she wasn't supposed to think while competing against some of the world's best women golfers. Now, balancing on the back of a stranger in an often-ignored region of the world, she discovered that the greatest gift wasn't medalist honors on an immaculate golf course, or even a paycheck. It was the strong shoulders of a grateful resident willing to serve as her transportation against the same tide that had devastated his homeland.

'Thinking about Haiti while I played in the sectional helped calm my nerves in a way,' she said. 'I had the sense that my life doesn't revolve around golf. That's how I played at the [U.S. Women's] Open this year and that's how I played at the sectional. After going there and living among the people of Haiti, with all that they need, I'm just not ever going to be worried about how I play golf.'

For two weeks in October, Greggain, 27, a native of Panorama City, Calif., and a current resident of Chilliwack, British Columbia, traveled with a team of 16 in a Canadian church-affiliated charity, called Hungry For Life International. Eight months ago, their original plan was to complete the construction of a church in Larac. The foundation had been poured for the building that would serve as a church, school and medical clinic, but funds had run out before the roof could be raised. Unfortunately, the roads to Larac had washed away in the floods before the team of construction workers, engineers, geo-techs, carpenters and medical specialists arrived.

The group's second plan was to administer help to the residents of Gonaive, where floodwaters had overtaken second-story buildings, contaminated fresh water supplies and devastated crops and livestock in the surrounding areas. But by the time the team had arrived, passage into the city was unsafe. Looters and robbers regularly intercepted food and water supplies from aid groups for personal consumption and black-market sales. So the group ended up in Grammothe, a small mountaintop village outside Port-au-Prince. Greggain's husband, Josh Greggain, in his final year of medical residency, volunteered in the village medical clinic.

'I'd never seen Josh work as a doctor before that time,' said his wife. 'In seven days, we saw more than 400 patients.'

The Greggains administered to sick children needing antibiotics, pregnant mothers with complications, malnourished residents and even those seeking minor surgery. One woman, who had suffered a stroke, walked for days and hiked up the mountain with a paralyzed left side to reach the clinic. Another 20-year-old woman, weighing 85 pounds and needing serious medical attention from a cardiac surgeon, sought medication for her heart defect.

'We brought $5,000 worth of medicine and the usual medical supplies, but sometimes we still felt helpless,' said Greggain, who assisted her husband, handing him sterile tools while he sutured injured patients.

Greggain checked patients into the clinic, weighed them and even treated children for scabies while her husband administered more medical expertise elsewhere in the sparsely furnished facility. Their worst experience was learning that a woman, seven months pregnant, had lost her baby prematurely.

'After we heard that the baby had died, we decided to make a house call and went into the village,' said Greggain. 'We talked to her and tried to comfort her. We told her it wasn't her fault.'

By visiting patients and going into their homes, the reality of their miserable living conditions became evident to Greggain and the team. Island residents live in mud huts with dirt floors. In the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Greggain observed mountains of garbage in the streets. Rules of the road were non-existent, making roadways hazardous to all vehicles and pedestrians. This was particularly noticeable to the team, whose mode of transportation was riding in the back of a 1985 Chevy pickup truck -- all 16 of them at once.

'Sometimes, it was quite overwhelming,' said Greggain, a fifth-year member of the Futures Golf Tour and winner of the 2000 NCAA Sportsperson of the Year Award while at the University of Washington. 'It put into perspective what is really important in life. In Haiti, it's about survival.'

And that was a key focus of the team's gentleman host, who started a church and school in the mountain region where they stayed. The man also installed irrigation, which helped grow crops for food to battle the malnutrition still plaguing much of Haiti.

'He was teaching the people ways to help themselves,' said Greggain.

The team lived in quarters that were very much like unair-conditioned summer cabins with beds and functional bathrooms. The water wasn't always hot, but they were fortunate to have running water. During the trip, half of the team suffered with gastro-intestinal disorders, which they affectionately called 'the Haitian Sensation.' Greggain's key discomfort was that she was 'a mosquito magnet.'

Communication was rarely a problem. Most members of the Canadian team were able to communicate in French with island residents, who speak Creole, a regionalized version of French.

'In the village, we got a warm welcome,' said Greggain. 'People were happy to see us -- happy that others cared about them. But there was great political unrest with violence in Port-au-Prince, so when we heard about that, we stayed away.'

With the school located next door to the medical clinic, the Greggains had the opportunity to meet many of the village children. And with her own two children back home in Canada staying with grandparents, Greggain couldn't help but think of six-year-old son, Darren, and three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Haitian youngsters asked where Canada was. They asked about her culture, her clothing and the way she wore her hair. Nobody knew she was a professional golfer. Nobody cared that, only months earlier, she had moved into the tournament field of the U.S. Women's Open as an alternate when injured LPGA Tour veteran Dottie Pepper withdrew.

'I tried not to think about golf and I tried to focus on what I was doing there,' said Greggain, who was the 1999 Washington State Public Links Champion. 'I found it very humbling to see what these children have, compared to what our children have back home.'

Josh and Jennifer Greggain decided to sponsor two Haitian children who are the same ages as their own children. Their hope was that Naomi Hermilus, 3, and Guy Nelus, 6, can exchange greetings with Darren and Elizabeth back in Canada. The Greggains hope to return to Haiti next year along with their children to meet their new Haitian pen pals.

'They can learn from each other,' said the golf-mom. 'I feel like the best way to educate my children is to show them the world.'

Greggain's world will change again when she arrives in Daytona Beach, Fla., Dec. 1-5, for the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. She will be focused on that task when it comes, albeit with new perspective.

'I see so many women golfers out there who get burned out because they make their life their golf score,' she said. 'That kind of pressure is going to hurt anybody over time. We've done so much in Haiti that it's kind of hard for me to get out on the golf course again, but I know that once I'm there, I'll be fired up and ready to go. I'll go to Florida for Q-School and trust what I have. I know that I've already had a really good year.'

Indeed, it was a year of highlights this native Californian will never forget, ranging from the electrified gallery-ringed U.S. Women's Open with its fanfare and worldwide acclaim, to that isolated afternoon in Haiti, when she climbed on the back of a countryman who carried her to a distant shore.