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An Inspirational Rock at Pebble

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Jeff Julian walks shoulder-and-shoulder with his wife, Kim. Its chilly, but the suns shining brightly and theres not a cloud to be counted on the Monterey Peninsula. Things seem perfect.
But theyre not.
Julian, 40, is battling ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrigs disease. Its a neurological disease for which there is no known cure. And to make matters worse, his is a rarer form.
Normally, the disease starts in the limbs and works its way up the body, slowly but surely disabling ones speech, swallowing and respiratory system. But thats where it started for Jeff.
Julian suffers from Bulbar ALS. The corticobulbar area of his brainstem, which controls the muscles of his mouth and tongue, is severely affected. Fifty percent of ALS victims die in the first 18 months. Julian's is more severe.
As Julian plays in this weeks AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the effects are evident. But not in his walk, not in his game, and certainly, not in his outlook.
The only thing is to stay positive. Positive, thats it. The way I play golf is the way Im fighting this, Julian said following his practice round Tuesday at Poppy Hills.
Jeff speaks slowly and slurs his words. He uses his hands to stretch and move his cheeks and jaw. And when its cold, as it is Tuesday at Pebble Beach, his teeth chatter uncontrollably.
In June of last year, Julian and his friends and family noticed something was wrong. He was having trouble swallowing, choking at times. His speech was deteriorating. Jeff and Kim went to a doctor, who quickly referred them to a neurological specialist. In the fall of 2001, they had their answer.
For two weeks we were in shock, Kim said. But once we regained our composure, we continued on and went back to the way weve always been.
Jeff and Kim have been exploring experimental medicine. In February, he will start chelation therapy, which involves a series of intravenous infusions with a chemical called EDTA to try to eliminate mercury from his system. Mercury is a toxic chemical that can cause ALS symptoms.
The natural question one might ponder is Why? But not Jeff.
Maybe for about five seconds when we first went to Johns Hopkins, he said. No, I dont feel that way. This may be what Im meant to do.
Few people have such resolve. Few people can look death in the eye and say, You can take my body, but not my mind, and not my heart.
Julian is a true protagonist, not a tragic figure. A hero to those who know him. A man of conviction and quality ' even before this disease began to manifest itself inside him.
Kim knew such things when she met him at the Buy.Com's Ozarks Open, 45 minutes from her hometown of Branson, Mo. (where the couple currently lives). She liked the fact that he first mentioned that he had a son; she did, too. She knew instantly he was a keeper, even if he was a bit clumsy.
I thought he was cute, she said.
I spilled a drink on her shoes,' Jeff chimed in.
To which Kim added: I was wearing open-toed sandals, too, and it was awful, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
They talked at length that first night. And when Jeff returned to play in another event near the area, he drove to Branson to see her. A relationship was cemented. They will be a married a year come Feb. 15.
Hes handsome, thats obvious, Kim said, as Jeff leaned over to kiss her cheek. Hes honest. Hes loving. Hes wonderful. Hes the man of my dreams.
And I can putt, too, Jeff said with a laugh.
Jeff is a very talented player. He won the 1995 New England Open on his home course, the Quechee Club in Vermont, and also the 1997 Dominion Open on the Buy.Com Tour.
Hes been a member on the PGA Tour, earning his card through the Qualifying Tournament in 1995. He lists that day as one of his greatest golfing moments. Another was when he got a call from Pebble Beach tournament director Ollie Nutt.
Nutt offered Julian what he really needed - a chance to play competitively.
We spent a couple of weeks in Florida, playing some golf and I think the word they used was a degree of normalcy, said best friend and caddie this week Scott Peters. I think he finds his peace on the golf course and as long as he has that, I think life seems somewhat normal to him and its something that gives him that escape, that peace of mind.
Jeff says golf is like life. You have to put the bad behind you and move forward. In fact, his swing is much like his words - slow in delivery, but powerful in impact.
We believe there is a cure. I know there is, he said. Its out there. Im sure of it. I have lots of help and Im very lucky that way.
This lead has a very strong supporting cast. Peters helped Jeff get a sponsorship deal with Callaway Golf. Hes also organized a charity tournament in June to help raise money for his cause.
There are also his peers, such as Joel Edwards, who first met Julian when he was a rookie on tour in 1996. Edwards, like so many others, is still trying to come to terms with his friends affliction. He finds the questions far outnumber the answers.
You cant explain something like that. How do you explain that to your kid? How do you explain something like that? You cant, he said after playing a practice round with Julian Tuesday.
Hes uplifting to me. He should be to everybody. His story needs to be heard. He needs to be out here every day. Thats the way it should be.
Theres a paradoxical word in the English lexicon called perspective. One can only have such a thing if he or she has experienced both the sweet and the sour life has to offer. Due to circumstance, its not something you pursue, but when you find it, you keep hold.
Its pretty minute, your problems. You got your health, your family. So what if youre hitting it sideways, Edwards said. I was going to go practice...I think Im going to go call my wife.
This event is one of seven for which Julian can receive a sponsors exemption. He wants to play. He needs to play. To find that normalcy. And to spread awareness.
Its a horrific disease and its not very common, said Kim. So theres not a lot of funding for research. And Jeffrey has a great opportunity to help other people, too. Its a horrible thing. Its a horrible process. I think thats why its been given to us, to help other people, too.
Robert Frost wrote: The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. Jeff Julian will cherish this week at Pebble Beach. Hell take time to enjoy the surroundings, and the walks with his wife. But hes still a player, and a competitive one at that.
Its always sentimental walking up the 18th hole at Pebble, he said. But Im seriously here to play and my game is very good. Im really in the game, thats it. Sunday, walking up 18, Ill savor that moment. Until Sunday, its going to be business as usual.
Sunday. He remains positive, as if no one and no thing can take away the dream he fostered as a youth back in Vermont.
I always saw myself walking up 18 at Pebble Beach on Sunday, honestly, he says, then pauses and smiles. Sunday at 18.