How Golf Helped Former Military Service Member Ricky Sleeper Overcome Struggles - MASSGOLF

How Golf Helped Former Military Service Member Ricky Sleeper Overcome Struggles

There are a million untold golf stories. This one starts in Lunenburg, located an hour-plus northwest of Boston. That’s where Ricky Sleeper, now 38, was raised with two older sisters. He became a baseball standout, though professional sports was never his calling.

At age 23, Sleeper saw the birth of his first son, a new challenge for the young man. But there was another challenge in store for him. Influenced by his grandfathers who served in WWII and the Korean war, and sister who was in the Air Force – Sleeper joined the armed forces in 2009 having turned 24.

He joined the Military Police, and Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Dix in New Jersey were his baptisms. In 2011, his 31 Bravo Unit got the notice – it was headed to Afghanistan to fight. Sleeper’s primary role was driving his own truck, providing personal security detail for high dignitaries, generals, colonels and other VIPs. He doubled as a machine gunner on the escort missions, one of the most rigorous combat positions on the planet.

“I was shot at a lot, and we faced death every day,” Sleeper said.  “My closest brush was when I was mere seconds away from a rocket landing outside our chow hall.”

Also taking its toll on his mind was an incident that saw 24 of 25 U.S. troops, including Sleeper’s best friend, perish in an armored taxi explosion. Sleeper was originally scheduled to be part of that convoy, but plans changed.

Ricky Sleeper joined the Military Police at age 24. (Contributed)

Challenges Galore

Miraculously, Sleeper didn’t sustain physical injuries, but his psychological wounds were massive – anxiety, depression and anger.  The emotional instability rendered him unable to concentrate driving a car. Add to that fighting to obtain Veteran’s Administration benefits, all while taking medicine.

“At one point, I thought of hurting myself,” he said despite the birth of a second child upon his return to Massachusetts that year. “But then I realized, despite my mental struggles, I wanted to see the kids grow up and taking my own life like some of my fellow MPs wasn’t the answer.”

With the will to live in check, Sleeper became a prison corrections officer in western Massachusetts. However, an inmate altercation unfortunately led to permanent injury to his spinal cord and nerve damage up and down his left leg. But Sleeper persevered through all pains and joined the state’s National Guard, and once again was challenged when he was present at the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and helped track down the culprits.

Golf the Savior

Sleeper desperately needed balance between the difficult life of enforcing law and order and enjoying his life. One day, a friend from his corrections job called him with a potential solution.

“He told me about On Course Foundation, although I only sporadically picked up a golf club a kid,” Sleeper said. “The organization was coming to Salem to conduct a golf leaning program, so I figured giving it a whirl was sensible.”

On Course Foundation helps wounded, sick and injured veterans develop golf playing abilities while teaching career skills to work in the golf industry. It places them in golf industry jobs with top manufactures as well as at golf courses, country clubs and resorts. More than 2,000 service members haven benefitted from On Course Foundation programs in the U.S. and Europe since 2010.

“From the first minute, I felt a brotherhood with On Course Foundation members and staff,” Sleeper said. “Golf quickly became a passion and an important, obsessive means of therapy, and I combined it with working out at the gym. It would be a good day when I got in the car and started driving to the course; then I would take out my problems out on the course.”

Sleeper figured that if guys missing legs and in worse situations could overcome their hordes of difficulties, so could he. He became a Mass Golf member by joining Oak Hill Country Club in Fitchburg, and his Handicap Index lowered to single digits in no time. Now he plays competitively against peers and casually with his kids in western Massachusetts.

“Ricky has made close, big brother-type friendships with other On Course Foundation members in Massachusetts and nationwide,” said John Simpson, Founder and CEO of On Course Foundation, who was a longtime IMG executive and business manager for Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Nick Price and Bernhard Langer. “Ricky and the individuals in our program are in constant contact year-round and provide a major support mechanism to one another. Giving back to like-minded people who give their hearts, souls and advice to Ricky is special.”

Ricky Sleeper, far right, has used golf to overcome the physical and mental challenges he’s faced over the years. (Contributed)

With utmost pride, Sleeper exclaims his On Course Foundation experiences are life changing, helping him manage anxiety to the significant benefit of his personal and professional worlds.

That’s not to say the overwhelming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) hasn’t gone away. Reliving incidents of 12 years ago is common for Sleeper, but with golf as an equilibrium, his mental state is improving. So much so, Sleeper assists the Holy Cross golf team and on occasion  moonlights as a golf instructor, course starter and high school golf coach.

One thing’s for certain for this Mass Golf member who now carries a 1.2 Handicap Index, should he pursue that route, On Course Foundation is front and center to help Sleeper’s golf ambitions come true.