Inspiring one drive at a time in the ParaLong Drive Cup at Legends Resort

Dave Sawtell at ParaLong Drive Championship

Australian Dave Sawtell, the world long drive record holder for a one-handed swing in a wheelchair, plays at the ParaLong World Long Drive Championship this weekend at Legends Golf Resort in Myrtle Beach.
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Australian Dave Sawtell, the world long drive record holder for a one-handed swing in a wheelchair, plays at the ParaLong World Long Drive Championship this weekend at Legends Golf Resort in Myrtle Beach.

Dave Sawtell has tattoos on each forearm that read: “Never give up Never retreat,” and “Life is there to be lived, so live.”

He’s fulfilling the messages in each this weekend in Myrtle Beach.

Sawtell, 51, has traveled from Australia to compete in the fifth ParaLong Drive Cup, which is being run concurrently with the inaugural Amateur Long Drive World Championship at Legends Golf Resort’s driving range Friday and Saturday.

Nicknamed “Wheels,” he holds the record for the longest one-armed drive from a wheelchair of 209 yards and the Guinness World Record for the longest one-armed carry from a chair at 162 yards, which he soon will attempt to break.

He’s making his first return to the ParaLong Drive Cup since winning the wheelchair division title in 2014 in Nevada, and is among nearly 100 participants at Legends.

Qualifying rounds were Friday, and amateur qualifying continues Saturday followed by the finals featuring amateurs and ParaLong competitors, which will be broadcast live from 5-6 p.m. on WWMB-CW 21.

“I’d love to compete in more sporting events for disabled people if I could,” said Sawtell, whose longest drive Friday was 165 yards in soft conditions. “I’d like to be able to show that even if you’re a disabled person you can do whatever you want and you can be whatever you want. That’s why I do it, and I love it. I absolutely love it.”

Sawtell said he was given no more than 48 hours to live at birth. He was born with Spina Bifida, paraplegia and slight scoliosis. He has a shorter spine than normal as well as a hole in his lower spine.

Golf is among the latest sports and activities Sawtell has attempted. He was a competitive weight lifter for about 12 years, competed in a marathon kayak race requiring 15 consecutive hours in a kayak, he raced cars, he has boxed and sparred against able-bodied people, and competes in 5-kilometer races in his wheelchair, finishing as quickly as 38 minutes and 35 seconds.

He uses sport as motivation and is becoming more involved in motivational speaking.

“Now I can help other people like myself achieve their dreams in golf or whatever they want to do,” Sawtell said. “The golf has given me more of an outlook of what I want to do with my life and who I want to be, and I want to be able to help people.”

Sawtell’s trip has been sponsored by the Australian medical aids manufacturer Niagara, whose products helped Sawtell rebound from a decline in health in recent years.

His swing coach, John Noble, is also on the trip. They both live in the area of Tugun, Queensland on Australian Gold Coast, and Noble is a former golf instructor who won the Australian long drive championship with a poke of 429 yards in 2006 and Australasian long drive championship in 2005.

The two met through long drive competitions in 2006. Noble is retired from competition but runs the Australian Long Drive Tour.

“I just thought I’d see if I could help him out and understand more about how it is for Dave to swing. I taught myself to sit in a chair and swing out of a chair so I could understand the mechanics more, so then I passed it on to Dave,” Noble said.

“It’s pretty awesome to see what he does. If you can’t get inspiration from a guy like Dave, you need to get your head right I think. I mean all of these guys out here this weekend competing, they’re all inspirational really.”

A couple locals competing in the ParaLong competition are Thomas Maneely of Myrtle Beach and Clebe McClary of Pawleys Island, both in the one-armed swing division. Darren deMaille, owner of the Double D Golf Academy at the Tupelo Bay and Harbour View, is Maneely’s instructor and is providing to competitors a ParaGolfer mobile cart that allows players paralyzed below the waist to be in an upright position for a swing.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin