AROUND TOWN: Blind Association Golf Tourney Hosting Very Special Guest
Jake Olson graduated from the University of Southern California last week.
He’s also a single-digit handicap whose goal is to get that number even lower.
And he was a long snapper for the USC football team.
All of which is nice, but not exceptional. Until you find out Olson is blind.
Has been since age 12 when he had his right eye surgically removed after fighting cancer in it eight times. Born with retinoblastoma, he lost the sight in his left eye at eight months. He has not only persevered, but flourished.
Soon, Olson will come to Northeast Pennsylvania to take part in the 33rd annual William J. Jordan, M.D., Memorial Swing for Sight Golf Tournament at Glen Oak Country Club.
“It serves as an inspiration to everyone, for sure,” said Jerry Musheno, a member at Glen Oak and the immediate past chairman of the Lackawanna Blind Association. “We were very fortunate to have someone from Northeastern Eye Institute, Jerry Jordan Jr., had seen him out at Riviera Country Club (in Los Angeles) and he brought the house down.
“Jerry said we’ve got to get this guy.”
They did, and he’ll be here for the tournament June 17. And if you could see the video posted on the USC Trojans Twitter account of Olson hitting a golf ball, you’d take him on your team in an instant.
“The part that amazes me most is he knew he was going to be blind,” Musheno said. “Some people have an accident and lose their sight, but he had to cram in as much as he could before this happened.
“To go out to USC and have the ability to enroll there and actually play there. It tells me that no matter how difficult a position you think you are in, you can certainly make something out of it. I can’t wait to meet him.”
A native of Huntington Beach, California, Olson grew up a huge USC football fan. And when then Trojans coach Pete Carroll learned Olson’s story, he invited him for a behind the scenes look at the program — before he lost his sight. It just made Olson more determined to fulfill his dream, which he started at his high school with the help of an assistant coach.
USC welcomed him to their program and on Sept. 2, 2017, Olson became the first completely blind person to play in a Division I game.
Of course, it took some work from not only Olson, but current USC coach Clay Helton, who reached out to Western Michigan coach Tim Lester to ask if they would be willing not to rush the extra point when Olson snapped. In return, USC wouldn’t rush the kicker on WMU’s first extra point.
After a late pick-6, Olson took the field, his hand on the shoulder of place kicker Chase McGrath. Olson’s snap was true and so was McGrath’s kick.
“Out of everything that I have learned throughout my journey from losing my sight to snapping in Saturday’s game, one of the most important principles has been the power of resilience,” Olson wrote for ESPN.com in August 2018. “My friends and family can vouch for my inherent stubbornness. While it is sometimes frustrating to others, it has also rooted me in the belief that I can excel at anything I put my mind to.
“As I grew restless watching my high school football team perform, I knew I had to find a way to get back onto the field. There were plenty of people who were skeptical at first, and I don’t blame them: a blind kid playing football? It was an absurd idea. It also did not help that when I first started snapping, I sucked. I remember my first snap hit the ground and bounced off my coach’s foot, and hearing the feedback was disheartening.”
But thousands of snaps later, Olson was ready for his moment and succeeded. Now, the motivational speaker and subject of an ESPN Emmy Award-winning piece is coming to Clarks Summit next month.
“I think all he needs is about
20 minutes of a captive audience,” Musheno said. “It’s just an opportunity that we can’t let slip through our hands. We’re getting the word out for the tournament, for sure, but also if you can’t play just sign up and come to the dinner. I’d say that’s so well worth the price of admission.”
The tournament is one of two major fundraisers for the Lackawanna Blind Association. The other is on Helen Keller Day.
“There’s always a healthy competition between the two,” Musheno said. “There might be a slight edge I’d have to give to the golf committee on this one.”
To register for the tournament or dinner, visit www.lackawannablind.org and click on the Swing for Sight tab, or call 570-342-7613.
MARTY MYERS is a Times-Tribune sports writer. His Around Town column appears on Sundays. To contact him, email email@example.com, call 570-348-9100, ext. 5437 or follow him on Twitter @mmyersTT.