|Steve Terpak, working on his putting at Berkshire Hills Country Club on Monday, is heading to Japan this weekend as a member of the United States team in the World Disabled Championship. (Richard Lord / Berkshire Eagle Staff)|
article by Richard Lord | The Berkshire Eagle | Sept 23, 2014
Overcome adversity and prevail.
Pittsfield's Steve Terpak preaches "OAP" to those -- especially his two children and other young people -- who will listen.
"Everyone gets knocked down at some point in their life -- what defines you is how you get up," Terpak said.
What knocked Terpak down was a horrific accident -- a mini-van versus his motorcycle -- in 2005.
He was comatose at times. There were skull fractures. Two bed-ridden years. Multiple surgeries.
Eventually, it meant the amputation of his left leg, from the knee down.
But Terpak got back up.
On Saturday, the 55-year-old golfer leaves for Japan as a member of the four-man United States team that will compete in the World Disabled Championship that tees off next Wednesday, just five years after playing in his initial amputee event on Cape Cod.
"I played in my first [disabled] tournament the day after I got my [prosthetic leg]," said Terpak. "I fell down on my first swing."
But, as he did during his recovery and has ever since, Terpak lived up to "OAP" by getting up and revamping a swing that had made him good enough to play on some pro mini-tours before the accident.
"I don't have a natural swing now," said Terpak, who says he still hits it about 250 yards off the tee (down from about 270 before the accident). "I can't transfer my weight to the front. I play a different kind of game. It's about hitting it straight and accuracy. It took me some time to learn what would work."
It didn't take all that long -- Terpak, who plays to a 5 handicap, has been the Eastern Amputee Golf Association player of the year twice in the last four years.The Berkshire Hills Country Club member finished second this year in the Eastern Regional and National Amputee Golf Association championships, leading to his receiving the invitation from the national association to take part in the first official World Disabled Championship next week.
Getting to this point has been a remarkable comeback story.
Terpak was on his motorcycle on Merrill Road headed toward Allendale in Pittsfield in 2005, when a minivan heading in the opposite direction wandered into the wrong lane and met Terpak head-on, with both traveling at about 40 mph.
"The police said the driver claimed the sun got in her eyes," said Terpak, who has no recollection of the incident, but said there were witnesses. "I flew into the windshield and it deflected me over the roof and I tumbled. A good friend of mine was there. My face was a mess and he couldn't recognize me, but he knew it was me because he recognized the motorcycle. He stayed with me until help arrived."
Among the injuries, according to Terpak, were 11 skull fractures, left shoulder and right hip injuries and serious injuries to both legs.
"I was taken to BMC where they stabilized me," Terpak said. "Then I was taken to UMass [Medical Center in] Worcester. I was out [in a coma] for months. I had 15 surgeries and was there for about a year."
Terpak was then moved back to Pittsfield, spending the next six months in a rehabilitation center before going home where a hospital room was set up and where he was visited by nurses on a daily basis.
Several avenues were pursued in an effort to save his left leg, but in 2009 it was amputated and eventually he received his prosthetic leg.
The surgeries included two right knee replacements.
"Everyone thinks my left leg is the problem, but the right knee is really the bad leg," Terpak said.
He also lost a piece of his skull and suffered brain damage.
"I have some short-term and long-term memory loss," Terpak said. "I have no memory of the six months before the accident."
Needless to say, there were some difficult times. Terpak said his children, ages 4 and 5 at the time, played a huge role in his determination to recover and start anew.
"After seeing the dark side of life, I have found a new balance. I spend as much time as I can with my kids" -- daughter Kaitlin, 13, and son Patrick, 14 -- "and spend time working on my passion, which is my golf game. And, I had to find new ways to earn income."
Terpak points to Skyline Country Club head professional Jim Mitus for turning his head in the right direction.
"When I first became ambulatory, Jim told me to come up to Skyline and that I had a job behind the counter," Terpak said. "That was the best thing that could ever have happened to me. It made me feel like I was part of life again."
"He was a little down and it gave him something to do," Mitus said. "Golf is what he loved and I needed help at the time."
Being at Skyline reintroduced him to the club's members, and to the golf community at large.
"It's a close group at Skyline. They all supported me and I want to know everyone to know how grateful I am to all of them," said Terpak, pointing to Jack Bartow, Dick Rivers and Chip Wilson as among the many who provided support.
"Without my friends, I don't think I would have made it. The golf community in Berkshire County is a tight-knit group and they all had my back. If I had lived in a big city like Boston or New York, I don't think that would have happened."
Terpak's background in sports now has him working three jobs. He teaches golf at Berkshire Community College, is the head coach for the Taconic High School co-op hockey team (Taconic, St. Joseph, and Pittsfield students), and the golf coach at MCLA.
"After that accident, most people would have folded up their tent," said Pete Terpak, Steve's cousin and the golf coach at Wahconah Regional High School. "But he had the fortitude to fight back. He has a positive personality all the time. He's poured himself into youth sports."
Steve Terpak hopes his story of perseverance resonates with the young people he is working with.
"After where I have been and what I have been through, I want to serve as a role model," he said. "I try to use my past as a teaching tool for my students."
Terpak was an outstanding hockey player at Lenox High School, playing on a Western Mass. championship team, before skating at Nichols College and also playing some in Europe.
"I love it," he said of coaching hockey. "We've been a little under .500 the past few years, but we're looking forward to an excellent season. We have some great players, and I think for the next two or three years, we should be contenders."
In his second year at MCLA, Terpak says the program is in a rebuilding mode. He's having to use a couple of very inexperienced players just to round out the roster, but hopes he can lure some top county high school players into the program going forward. Still, despite the current struggles, there are apparently lessons being learned.
"I'll give the kids credit -- they don't quit."
Overcome adversity and prevail.