With the Rosedale community coming together to support him, Army Sergeant Chad Rozanski lined up his tee shot and took a mighty swing from his wheelchair during the Rosedale Golf Classic on April 6.
"Sometimes I fall out of the chair," Rozanski said with a laugh. "That's usually my best swing."
Rozanski meets other obstacles of life with similar determination, and sometimes humor.
On July 2, 2006, Rozanski's Army vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device in Ramandi, Iraq. He was pinned under the burning wreckage, and it took his fellow soldiers almost an hour to free him. After Rozanski was sent back to the United States for treatment, doctors had to amputate both his legs above the knee while also performing skins grafts in response to the burns he suffered over 40% of his body.
Ever since, his best swings at life sometimes have resulted in a fall, but he pushes ahead to live as "normal" a life as possible.
Unfortunately, in that pursuit, he never has been able to call his home a sanctuary. Like many injured veterans, navigating though a house or apartment not meant for a person with physical challenges can lead to frustration and stress.
That's about to change for Rozanski.
Started by Rosedale's Deb Kehoe and Kathi Skelton in 2014, the Rosedale Golf Classic has since raised funds for the nonprofit Homes for Our Troops. Rozanski was the tournament's main recipient this year and will move into a new Lake Nona home by the end of the summer.
"I didn't know this was an option," said Rozanski, who is a single father of two. "Throughout the years, I have just lived in a normal home. After a while, you get used to not being able to access all the areas. I just accepted it. … This is the way my life would be forever."
Three years ago, he found Homes for Our Troops and contacted them about the possibility of getting help modifying his home.
"They said they couldn't help me modify my home, but they could build me a home from the ground up," Rozanski said.
He wanted to believe it, but as he put it: "With everything going on in the world, it can be hard to stay steady.
"I had reservations (about receiving a new home) in the back of my mind. But then we had a kickoff ceremony (before breaking ground on the new home), and I knew this was real. This was happening."
Brigadier General Tom Landwermeyer, the CEO and President of Homes for Our Troops, traveled from the nonprofit's Taunten, Massachusetts, office to celebrate the moment.
"Without the American public, we can't do what we do," Landwermeyer said, adding that Homes for Our Troops has built 330 homes across 42 states for disabled veterans. "This is our moral obligation. We are repaying a very small part of the debt we owe them. They have sacrificed their freedom and independence."
Landwermeyer said that 95% of the veterans who have received a specially a specially adapted custom home from Home for Our Troops have said they had substantial stress reduction on their family. The employment rate of those who have moved into the custom homes doubled and the employment for their main caregiver tripled.
"We have seen life-changing impacts," Landwermeyer said.
Skelton and Kehoe estimated the Rosedale Golf Classic and its associated fundraisers will donate $175,679 to Homes for Our Troops in 2022. The amount will break the record of $161,000 in 2020. The event raised $132,905 in 2021 even though no tournament was scheduled due to the pandemic.
Landwermeyer said the Rosedale Golf Classic has become one of the top two fundraisers in the country for Homes for Our Troops, which gives the homes to the veterans at no cost.
"Those two ladies (Skelton and Kehoe) and their husbands are out in the community all year long," he said. "A few days after this is over, they will start working on next year's event. People know who we are here and what we do because of them. Those two ladies have hit me here (touching his heart) with their dedication, and their love for veterans."
He also noted that no area he visits has more patriotism than he finds when he visits the Rosedale Golf Classic.
"Everyone here has a passion for the mission," he said.
Rozanski said the community's embrace has been overwhelming.
"This is such a great grassroots community," Rozanski said of Rosedale. "It is truly unique and special here, and they treat you like you are a special family member. It restores your faith in America."
Among the other veterans on hand who have benefitted from the program was Michael Monthervil, an E4 specialist in the Army when he was injured in a training exercise in Afghanistan in 2014. He fractured his spine and lost the use of his legs. Monthervil will receive a custom adapted home in San Antonio in about 10 months.
His fiancée, Ashley Nicklas, said the new home will not only give Monthervil independence but also do the same for her since it frees her from many of her care-taking duties.
Monthervil, who has limited use of his hands, gave an example of not having door handles any more that he can't grip. And access in the bathroom to the shower finally will be realized.
The kitchen counters will be accessible.
"I will be able to wash dishes," he said.
Nicklas laughed a bit and added a big "yes."
In the end, though, Nicklas said the custom home will allow Monthervil to pursue the many goals he has accumulated.
Rozanski, who is raising his 13-year-old son, Logan, and 5-year-old daughter, Lydia, said he feels the same way.
"I am going to be living in a home with no barriers," he said. "I can take a cup of coffee from the kitchen to the back porch.
"The way I would explain it is that if you take a rock and throw it in a pond, you get that initial huge splash, and then you get the ripple effect. This is going to change my life and my children's lives."
Kehoe and Skelton said they will keep the tournament rolling.
"We don't think about the money," Kehoe said. "We are in this to make the lives of the veterans better. My heart gets big with this."
"When they get their house, we cry," Skelton said. "We hug them. It's so emotional."