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'He just doesn't have that worry in the world' - Kentucky golfer going for gold at Special Olympics

Karyn Czar

Karyn Czar introduces us to Wake Mullins, a 27 year old competitor who eats, drinks and sleeps golf. He and his stepfather Dennis Gaines are in Germany this week getting ready to tee it off for Team USA in the Special Olympics.

The skies were bright blue, the sun was shining, and a gentle breeze tickled the grass at Picadome Golf Course for the final practice for 27-year-old Wake Mullins and his stepfather, Dennis Gaines before they headed to Germany. They're among the more than 200 athletes representing the United States in the 2023 Special Olympics World Games. Their game is golf.

Dennis tells me when Wake was a toddler, an illness almost took his life. He survived but had to relearn everything.

“He had to learn to walk, talk, eat everything again. You know, he had to wear braces on his legs because it impacted his body like a stroke in some sense." Dennis said, "You know, he had 19 months he lost that he had to start all over again."

But Wake never lost his drive or his positivity. He started watching Tiger Woods play golf on TV. Next, he wanted to play the sport on a video game. Then it was time to hit the course. Now he knows the game inside and out.

I asked Wake how long he had been playing.

Wake: "Nine years."
Czar: "You love it?"
Wake: "Yup!"
Czar: "What's so fun about golf?"
Wake: "Ummmm, driving."
Czar: "I can putt, and I can drive the cart, but that's about it."
Wake: "This is a putter. Yes, this is a Jean Wedge, Jean Sand, sand wedge."
Czar: "Do you have a favorite club?"
Wake: "Driver."
Czar: "Driver?"
Wake; "Yup!"

Dennis says his stepson has pinpointed his strength.

"That's the strength of his game is his driver. I'm on my 16th year coaching Special Olympic golf. We played in national tournaments, Seattle, New Jersey, South Carolina, Florida, and then all the state tournaments. I've yet to see a special Olympic athlete hit the ball as far as he does it's, it's just amazing." Dennis grins, "It's amazing."

And Dennis tells me that Wake's personality makes him a joy to hit the course with.

"Happy-go-lucky. He just doesn't have that worry in the world and he just, he's so much fun to play with and you never know what you're going to see. He's going to impress you. He's going to hit some shots and like, wow, even in my prime, I couldn't hit shots like that. And he sits there and hits that shot."

And Wake may not realize it, but he's teaching others.

"He has a very nice golf swing. Whenever I get a new golf athlete on our team that I'm coaching or teaching, he’s, my prop." Dennis said, "I use him. I say this is how you want to learn to swing the club, not how I swing the club. Watch him."

Wake was nominated to be a part of the USA team along with seventeen other golfers from across the country. He's a nine-time state champion here in the Commonwealth. He also met other criteria that landed him a spot in the World Games where he will play alongside his stepdad, Dennis. They will get to work as a team.

Dennis and Wake hit the course for one last coaching session before they flew out.

"No, it's too much." Dennis guides his protege, "It's not a full one, OK. Short backswing. Follow through. I'm gonna (sic) move out of your way here. Good swing, OK?"

Wake nails his shot. It lands near the green."

"There you go! Jump ball! Not bad, buddy! Good swing!"

Dennis says Wake's disability has created another strength that makes him such a strong golfer. He lives in the moment and every shot, his or anyone else's is a good shot. Wake's best friend Henry Gibson says that's why he loves playing a round of golf with him.

"Wake always has fun. He loves joking around. He loves hearing people joke around with him," Henry said. "He's always smiling. It's so much fun just playing with him.

I asked Henry what he had learned from Wake.

"Just how to be easygoing and have fun with it every time. Like, it's rare that you see him really frustrated." Henry said, "It takes a lot for him to get frustrated, and he's always so happy and easygoing."

Wake and Dennis are now in Germany preparing for the games which start this Saturday. They're the first team from Kentucky to represent the U.S. in golf for the Special Olympics World Games. It's a journey that's bittersweet. Wake has gotten good enough to play solo after this event, so Dennis says he's going to relish every minute, just like Wake.

"He now knows that it's a long way to get over there, but it has that four-letter word in it that he loves and that's golf and he gets to do that. It doesn't matter to him where he's at as long as he gets to play," said Dennis.

We will be following Wake and Dennis' progress throughout the games. Their first round is slated for next Monday.

Karyn Czar joined the WUKY News team July 1, 2013, but she's no stranger to radio.