Ashley Harris has coped with some really rough times. A very keen golfer as a boy, he developed Rheumatoid Arthritis as a student, followed by depression and a disastrous gambling addiction. In his early 20s, with a young family, his life slipped into free-fall in front of his eyes. A failed suicide attempt led him to being helped by the kindness of strangers and, slowly but steadily, Ashley has fought back. Today, his mental health is much improved, though he still has his tough days; he has rekindled his love of golf and is now forging a career for himself in the golf industry, including his recent founding of Enable Golf, which promotes golf for the disabled...
Cliche or not, but when Ashley Harris opened his heart to someone he didn't know, he "felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders". It was a turning point for a young man who had previously been active in sport. Ashley was fully invested in his college life, only to find himself, as he says, "with a 60 year-old body – beneath a 22-year-old mind".
A cocktail of prescription drugs, to ease the constant pain of a progressive and chronic disease, coupled with a slow decline into a gambling addiction, led Ashley to a dark place that terrified him.
It all came to a head one Halloween when he didn't even have the money to pay for a pumpkin or sweets. He was just 22 and carrying the world on his shoulders. Now he was a moment away from making a decision that would affect those people who meant most to him. Ashley stood at the side of a road, ready to step off the pavement in front of a passing car. He took that massive step.
Just a few hours later, Ashley found himself in a hospital room, opening his heart to that stranger. The woman that Ashley was speaking with was a psychotherapist who evidently was trained for this very situation.
Was this the turning point? Perhaps, indeed things looked brighter to Ashley only weeks later in November as he worked through several of the issues that had previously overwhelmed him, leading to that despairing step into the traffic.
Growing up, golf had been part of Ashley's life since his grandfather introduced him to the game as a teenager. Playing on the local par-3 course was a joy for Ashley and it became more than a game to him. Golf became a passion, something that he thought could perhaps become a career. After a one-off caddieing job at the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor, he started to have pain in his knee, which soon turned into a rendezvous with the operating table for keyhole surgery.
It was then doctors found evidence of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which eventually would spread to the other joints in his body. Some days, of course, were better than others – or perhaps more accurately – were significantly worse. Soon it became evident that he was beginning to struggle, the Rheumatoid Arthritis, a persistent companion, was exerting more influence on Ashley. Not only was his physical condition deteriorating, as it spread throughout many of his joints, but also the effects of the disease started to negatively impact his social circle.
He missed college activities, resulting in increased isolation. The gambling seemed like an innocent diversion, with the so-called 'promise' of turning his meagre benefit payments into substantially more, but the downward spiral had begun in earnest.
As Ashley started the long climb back, and with the realisation that there is "always somebody worse off than you", the thought of giving back to the game started to crystalise. After playing in his first Disabled Golf Association event, he scolded himself, "what am I moaning about?" He has created plenty of new friends in and around the game by enjoying golf, making that isolation issue a thing of the past.
Ashley is now an ambassador for the Emil Foundation in the Czech Republic and is training to become the best player that he can be. He has regained that passion he felt for the game as a child with his grandfather. In the spring of 2019, he launched Enable Golf, which promotes golf for the disabled, raising awareness through the media, to grow opportunities for those with disability to try and enjoy the game. Ashley has come a long way, and when asked for what advice he might give to someone in the same situation, he says: "Bad times never stick around."
Cliche or not? Ashley has the real-life experience to know that they seldom do.
Ashley is just one of 18 golfers, who have shared their story for Mulligan, a book published by the European Disabled Golf Association. To find out more, visit www.edgagolf.com/book