‘Golf with Marty’ is a lesson in inclusivity

On Fridays at Tilden Park Golf Course, Berkeley students have been discovering a not-so-secret-any more weapon in their struggles with the game of golf: Marty Turcios. Turcios, a 55-year-old professional golf instructor hired by the campus, is helping student golfers at all levels overcome obstacles with their swings, putts, chips and drives.

But they’re also learning from Turcios how not to let a handicap get in the way in the game of life.

KQED video profile of Marty Turcios, a Berkeley recreational golf coach

Turcios, who has cerebral palsy, is part of Athletics for All, a model program at Berkeley that is breaking down barriers for students with disabilities who want to participate in sports. In addition to the “Golf with Marty” drop-in class, which is open to all students, the program also includes for-credit goalball classes that last fall produced the nation’s first competitive college team for blind students. Cal Goalball will play its first away game later this month in Oregon. A power soccer program will begin in the fall.

“Berkeley’s institutional aspiration is to change the culture of college recreational fitness and athletics to make sports inclusive for every student,” says Matt Grigorieff, student founder of Athletics for All and a Graduate Assembly delegate, “and to create opportunities where disabled and non-disabled students engage in sports together.”

The campus also has been hiring coaches with disabilities like Turcios, who so impressed KQED reporter Jeremy Raff that this week he produced a story and video about him.

“With Marty, a lot of what catches people’s attention is that he’s golfing with a very visible disability, and that’s surprising, but I was impressed most with his independent spirit and his perspectives on disability. That’s what I wanted to amplify and show in the video,” says Raff, who does stories for the California Report’s “State of Health” segment.

Turcios allowed Raff to follow him through his day — as Turcios brushed his teeth, drove a car, worked out with a physical trainer he’s sought out and cultivated a friendship with, and pushed himself to increase the number of laps he swims.

“Everything Marty does is just cool, period. Not with the qualifier that he has cerebral palsy,” says Raff. “What bothers him is the systematic bias that exists against people like him.”

At Tilden Park Golf Course, Turcios welcomes any student who is a member of the Recreational Sports Facility to drop by for golf on Fridays between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. They also can introduce themselves to Turcios in advance via email at mtgolf@berkeley.edu. The popular class used to be taught at the RSF, but moved to Tilden Park, says Grigorieff, “because so many students want to de-stress by leaving campus and being a mile away on a golf course.“

They also want coaching from Turcios.

“There were several students who hardly spoke English at all, they were exchange students from China,” says Raff, “and it takes some focus to understand Marty. I thought they were understanding very little of what he was saying, but the language barrier doesn’t stop him. He’s a good communicator. A student in my video calls Marty’s coaching ‘intuitive.’ Instead of starting with the theory of the perfect golf swing, he just watches you swing and makes adjustments from where you are.”

“People with disabilities usually aren’t instructors,” says Grigorieff. “What Marty’s showing us is that all abilities can be involved in fitness, and that goes for instruction, too.”

To make this inclusive vision happen on a national level, professor Derek Van Rheenen, founding faculty member of Athletics for All, has been focusing his research on the topic. On campus, the student body also soon may be adding its support for additional inclusive sports at Berkeley.

If a student wellness referendum winds up on the ballot this spring, new fees would, in part, be available to support and increase the number of fitness and wellness programs like Golf with Marty that are offered by the Department of Recreational Sports.

KQED’s blogpost on Marty Turcios can be read here.

View more video coverage of Berkeley’s Golf with Marty here.