Unable to walk for the first two years following the accident, the challenges Van Baalen faces on a daily basis may have broken the spirit of lesser people but the 25-year-old’s passion for life and sport burns brighter than ever. At the start of 2022, Van Baalen had an ankle brace fitted which helped him combat his “drop foot” and get reacquainted with golf – a game he’d played in his Primary and High School years.
On a family trip to Sabi River Sun, Van Baalen didn’t just dip his toe back in the golfing pool – he dived right in, playing every day for a week. His best score over those seven days was 82, a remarkable feat when you consider that not only had he not touched a club for a few years but returned to the game with a litany of physical limitations, compromised balance among them.
“I wasn’t going to play golf if I was shooting like 110, I’m too competitive a person to want to play if I’m playing like that. I looked into joining SADGA and then my first event was the Ebotse Disabled Open.
Van Baalen has been incredibly competitive in the four SADGA Opens he has played to date – finishing 8th in the Physically-Disabled Medal at the Ebotse Disabled Open, 5th in the Irene Disabled Open, 2nd in the KZN Disabled Open and 2nd in the Tshwane Disabled Open.
Having knocked on the door in recent times – and held the first round lead in Tshwane – it’d come as little surprise if Van Baalen managed a victory in the Cape Town Disabled Open hosted by the City of Cape Town. Were he to lift the trophy though, he’d only be satisfied if he played the type of golf he knows he is capable of.
“I don’t really play for the leaderboard, I play for myself so I’m happy if I come stone–last and shoot 75-75. I’m not happy if I win and I shot 85-85 so it’s not really about the placing, it’s more about how I feel I did personally.”
As wonderful as success on the golf course would be, a burning desire to strap into the paragliding harness and take to the skies once more still lives within the fiery competitor.
“I still want to paraglide which shocks people. They think that for some reason the passion for paragliding was electrocuted out of my body when I hit that powerline but I don’t believe if you actually have a passion for something that it can ever go away. I still want to fly!
*Drop Foot: Difficulty lifting the front part of the foot
Photo: South African Disabled Golf Association