Multiple amputee finds purpose in golf
When double amputee and meningococcal survivor Mike Rolls was preparing to return home after 6 months in hospital and intensive rehab, he finally found himself asking, “Why me?’
“I think it is a very destructive question, but it is a very normal thing for people to ask when they go through some type of trauma,” Mike says.
“I started asking it when the magnitude of what had happened hit me in the face.”
It was 2001 and Mike was 18 – he was in his wheelchair getting ready for a shower on his last day in hospital – when he stopped to face his reflection in a mirror.
“My leg was gone. My grafting was front and back of my left leg and half a foot. My rib cage is showing. My eyes are sunken. Half of my nose is taken away. And I’m thinking, ‘How on earth do you get back from something like this? Like you can’t?’ I couldn’t see a way. I started to ask, ‘Why me?’
Now, as a professional speaker for schools and corporates, Mike shares his story about the heartbreak of his world collapsing, and how he eventually shifted his mindset.
In the days before contracting meningococcal, Mike was on top of the world. He was a sports-mad teenager and he was leaving for a football trip to Tasmania with the Hampton Football Club.
His mother drove him to his friend’s house, and he was bound for the airport.
“I gave Mum a kiss and that was the very last memory I had.”
Mike’s next memory was waking up after a five-and-a-half-week induced coma at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.
The doctor told him he had meningococcal septicemia, or meningococcal which has evolved into sepsis, and that his leg and part of his foot had been amputated.
“Obviously it’s crushing news.”
Mike had made it to Tasmania for the football trip, but by the end of the few days he was clearly unwell and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance.
“They called my parents and said, ‘Mike’s got about one hour to live.’”
After six months in hospital, when Mike was allowed home to continue his rehab and begin a new life, he battled depression and lethargy, and he continued to ask, ‘Why me?’
One Sunday morning, however, a drive with his father and “best friend” – the pair had spent many years playing golf together – proved to be a crucial turning point.
Tired and in pain, Mike says he had been reluctant to even leave the house when his dad suggested the idea of going out, and after 10 minutes in the car Mike just wanted to go home. But his dad kept driving.
“And then all of a sudden he pulls into The Dunes, which is a golf course we spent lots of time playing at.”
His dad parked and left for a few minutes, only to reappear driving a golf cart “and he’s got a grin from ear to ear”.
“I remember just letting him have it and telling him how unfair and how ridiculous [he’s being].
“He says, ‘I get all that. But what about we go for a quick drive up the first fairway and we’ll take you straight back home.”
What Mike didn’t know, was that his dad had snuck a 7 iron into the cart. He eventually convinced Mike to “have a hit” with the golf club even though Mike was adamant he would not be able to strike the ball given he was still learning to stand on his prosthetic leg.
But his dad persisted and held Mike’s hips to support him. Mike ended up hitting the ball 140 metres right down the middle of the fairway.
“Dad was so excited. He started clapping and he completely forgot to hold me and I fell flat on my face … and he’s dancing around like a cat on a hot tin roof thinking he’d hurt me.
“Then I rolled over and we both burst into laughter. I hadn’t hurt myself and it was a really special moment.”
Mike says that in that moment he also experienced a powerful realisation and a shift away from the “why me?” mindset.
He knew that if he wanted to enjoy a happy and healthy life, he needed to stop telling himself all the things he couldn’t do and start focusing on the things he could.
After the renowned Sunday morning drive, Mike started taking golf seriously.
“It’s been a big part not just of my life, but as a way of managing my mental health. I love nothing more than going to the golf course and just being out there with people enjoying an activity I love.”
He’s also inspiring others with the release of his book, ‘Ditch the Dead Weight: How my toughest choice became my greatest mission’.
Personally, Mike says he relishes any opportunity he gets to test and challenge himself.
“Because when we get used to that uncertainty – whilst it’s not pleasant at the time when we are experiencing it – it’s those times where we get the most learning, and we get the most value and the most character building.”