Here at Magee, everyone knows Jerry Segal and the Jerry Segal Classic — but how much do you really know about this amazing event? Read on to learn how the Segal Classic got its start… and how it’s grown over the past 25 years.
“I was sitting in the Magee cafeteria in my wheelchair, my head in a halo cast, and nothing moving below my shoulders, when I had the idea. I turned to my wife Carolyn and said, ‘Bring me my 7-iron.’ She looked skeptical, and honestly so did the doctor. But the next day she brought it, along with a ball. My therapists velcroed my hands to the club and I shrugged my shoulders to take a small swing. I hit the ball about 20 feet, looked up at Carolyn and said, ‘See? I’ll be back.’”
Here at Magee, we have an unofficial credo: believe in a way back. It’s about believing that an injury or illness doesn’t have to keep you from doing the things that make you, well, you. Believing in a way back means different things to different people. For Jerry Segal, it meant getting back to golf.
After months of therapy and hard work, he was on his way to getting what he wanted. When he left Magee, he left on crutches. Just days later, he was back on the links for the first time since his spinal cord injury. With friends on either side, he took that first swing. He fell. Didn’t stop him. He stood up and swung again. Another fall. But the third time was the charm. But hitting one ball wasn’t enough for Jerry; he went on to play all 18 holes. After the game, he and his golfing buddies went out for drinks, when one friend said he was donating $100 to one of Jerry’s organizations to celebrate his return. Jerry declined, insisting instead the money go to the people he believed were responsible for his success: Magee. One by one, all of his friends handed over donations to Magee. And that’s how the Jerry Segal Classic was born.
The first official Jerry Segal Classic was held in 1990 at the White Manor Country Club. Twenty-five years and $12 million later, this annual golf outing and dinner has left an impact far beyond what anyone could have expected – though Jerry had a feeling it would be a success.
“I’m a wide-eyed optimist,” he said with a smile. “The first year, our Chairman Lou Starkman said we’d be lucky to raise $10,000. I told him we’d need a lot more than that, and we’ll do whatever we have to so we can get the job done. That’s my philosophy in life. When you’re given a job to do, you do the best with what you’ve got. That allows you to achieve more than what people expect of you.”
And he, Lou and the rest of the Executive Committee really did give it the best they had… and it showed. That first year, they raised $56,000 – and each and every penny went directly to Magee. It went so well, in fact, that they did it again the next year. And the next year. And… well, you get the picture. As time went on, so did the milestones. There was the year they first hit $1 million raised for Magee. Then the year they hit $1 million in one day. Over the years, the tally crept up to $5 million, then $10 million. Today, the Segal Classic has raised more than $12 million for the patients and families of Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.
The number is staggering – but what is even more impressive is what’s being done with it. The funds raised through the Jerry Segal Classic have provided Magee and our patients with more programs and equipment than we could list in this entire magazine. These funds have supported important and valuable initiatives at the hospital, including peer mentor programs, which support patients and families affected by spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke and amputation. There’s also the Family and Friends Meal Program that has provided patients’ loved ones with more than 55,000 meals. And you can’t forget about the Housing Fund to support families of patients that live far away to be close to their loved ones during rehabilitation. Last year, more than 866 rooms were provided through this fund. Then, of course, there are the scholarships for Locomotor Training, the Wendkos Stroke Center, spinal cord injury programs, equipment for patients and much more (you can read more about some of these programs here).
Now that the Segal Classic is at its 25 year mark, is Jerry ready to slow down? Not even close.
“As long as I have breath, we’ll have the Jerry Segal Classic.”
From everyone at Magee, from the staff to the thousands of patients and families Jerry has impacted through his work, we offer our sincerest gratitude. This hospital—and, let’s be honest, this world—is a better place because of you.
Originally published in Fall 2014 Can Do.
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