Back in the swing of things

By Joshua McKenzie-Brown

Cathie Braun is a real head turner on the golf course. An aggressive staphylococcus infection left her with partial paralysis and a permanently damaged spine. It also nearly ended the 70 year olds playing days. However, a newly imported $51,000 all-terrain wheelchair - designed specifically for golfers - has got Braun back into the swing of things.

The electric ‘ParaGolfer’ chair is one of the first of its kind in New Zealand and, with the push of a button, allows her to play in an upright position. 

“I love the fact that I can give people a hug standing after we finish a round. When I was sitting in a wheelchair I hated looking up to someone to hug them,” she says.

Braun firmly believes her disability could have been avoided if antibiotics had been prescribed earlier by the hospital.

“It was medical misdiagnosis and misadventure … I could’ve walked out of there that day.”

The prognosis was bad, but Braun never gave up hope of getting back on her feet.

“Doctors said I’ll need the chair for the rest of my life, but I didn’t hear that,” she says confidently. 

Braun thought she’d never get back to her beloved golf, but the ParaGolfer has been a literal game-changer and enabled her to bring her clubs out of retirement.

According to the adaptive equipment website Eazilee - “The wheelchair can reach speeds of up to 10 km/h and can easily cross obstacles up to 10 cm in height. For hilly golf courses or if your ball gets caught in a sand trap, the ParaGolfer assists you with its climbing ability up to 17°. This lets you play the entire course. The seat can be adjusted and the stand up support helps you consistently assume the optimum position relative to the ball. ” 

“The first time I stood in it I had a belt around my stomach to hold me as well as the knee support. It was a bit scary as I don’t hold back and I was hitting (the ball) with as much force as I could muster. At times it felt like I would fall out. Before I finished my demo session they removed the belt. I don’t use it now,” she recalls. 

Golf has been Braun’s lifelong passion. In her late sixties, pre-infection, she used to play off an 18 handicap. Not bad, considering the global average, according to `Sunday Golf’ is 16 for a man and 28 for a woman. 

“I’ve always loved the challenge of winning a cup … I love match play and have always played in any inter club competitions we had. I used to go away with the girls and play in the Bay of Plenty teams competition. I still haven’t got my name on the Club Champs board. This is definitely still a goal of mine,” Braun says.

For now, the number one goal is to complete 18 holes.

“I played 15 the other day in the Club Champs. I’ll get there,” Braun says with her characteristic optimism. 

The ParaGolfer has given Braun the freedom to play again. It’s extremely stable but there have been a few nervous moments and close calls.

“The only time I feel insecure now is when I have to park on a hill to have a shot. It feels like I’m going to fall sideways down the slope! ” she says. 

Braun tried to get ACC to pay for the chair, but they declined. She challenged them and received a small contribution towards the overall cost of $51,000, paying the majority of it herself. 

“I enjoy golf and I can’t take my money with me anyway,” Braun says when recounting the challenge of securing the chair.

Brauns approach to adaptive sport is inspiring. She refused to be relegated to the mini-golf course and as a result of her resourcefulness, is back on the fairways and greens. 


Turangi Golf Club is her local. They’re thrilled to see her back out playing. 

“I love the social side. I have heaps of friends at the golf club and they have been so supportive of me and proud of the progress I have made with my rehabilitation,” Braun says.

“I’d like to get back to 36, I can do that,” Braun says, referring to her handicap. 

Keep a look out for the woman who plays golf from a wheelchair next time you’re playing a round in Taupō. She’ll probably beat you.