Nashville, TN - Chad "Doc" NeSmith, 51, had big plans growing up. From the age of 5, Doc knew that he wanted to play football--as a quarterback in high school, at a Division 1 college and ultimately in the NFL.
Those plans were abruptly changed when Chad turned 12.
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Doc first noticed that something was wrong when he started to run into trees while playing with his friends at dusk. He also knew something was off when he suddenly stopped being able to anticipate blindside hits at football practice.
He simply couldn't see the other players coming.
His doctors diagnosed him with retinitis pigmentosa--"tunnel vision"--a genetic disorder that would eventually take his sight.
"I was OK as long as they let me play sports, but after a year, a year and a half, they wouldn't let me play football anymore," Doc explained.
Doc got depressed and says that if it weren't for great friends and family, he might have let that depression take him to something destructive like illegal drugs.
"I think God had a plan and back then I didn't realize it, didn't care for it." Doc said.
Doc's mom wouldn't let him give up and insisted he pursue higher education. He eventually got a PhD in counselor education (thus the nickname "Doc").
After meeting his future wife in college, the two had a conversation about God. Patricia wanted to know where Doc stood with the Lord.
Doc says his faith wasn't solid at that time, but was moved by Pat's willingness to marry him even without a solid foundation.
Pat was volunteering at Franklin Graham's very first crusade in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and invited Doc to go. At first, he declined the invitation, but at the last minute decided to go.
Doc was moved by the testimonies at the crusade and went forward to accept Christ. Coincidentally, the volunteer at the crusade helping him tp walk through the process had lost his sight as well.
Doc's relationship with God has deepened ever since.
The couple eventually opened a private clinic, working with families and children with learning disabilities.
Things went well, but after almost a decade of marriage and lots of work at the clinic, Doc realized that something was off. The depression had started to creep back in, especially on the weekends.
Doc missed competition sports.
After doing some research, Patricia suggested the game of golf. Doc told her that if he couldn't figure out how to play in fairly short order, he would quit.
(How do you play golf when you're without sight? Blind golfers can play golf just like sighted golfers, but they can ground their clubs in a bunker which allows the club to back up against the sand and the ball while getting ready to swing. Having a guide helps too--he or she will describe the surroundings and the conditions as well help with stance and positioning the club for the best possible shot.)
Doc recalls, "I said I'd give 'em one hour with a local instructor in Tuscaloosa and if they can prove to me that I won't be a laughingstock and a joke, then I'd give it a chance. The pro was just having me hit some chip shots. At this point, I could see light but I couldn't see the ball, the ground or the club behind the ball...but after about 30 minutes, I started hitting them solid, the way he wanted them to sound. I loved the challenge; I loved being out there with the people, the volunteers. Sometimes I'd pay a high school student or a college student to go out and we'd hit balls together and it caught fire."
He quickly fell in love with the game.
So much so that Doc went on to win the National Blind Golf Association Championship in 2016 and 2017.
After a few years, the joy of being a champion started to dim so Patricia suggested Doc find a way to give back to the community. Together, along with his parents, they started AVID -- A Vision in Darkness. AVID is a program for children as young as 7 who've lost their sight, to learn how to play golf. Their mission is to get rid of all of the real and artificial things that block blind and visually impaired children who want to play golf.
Curious about what it's like at an AVID learning event? Click here.
AVID has since expanded to include adults and veterans as well.