(IRVING, Texas) — Former President George W. Bush on Friday kicks off the third annual Warrior Open golf tournament that features 24 wounded combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The annual event is one of Bush’s few public outings as he’s enjoyed a busy private life that recently included a health scare and the birth of his first grandchild.
The Warrior Open is a competitive 36-hole golf tournament that ends Saturday in Irving, Texas. The event honors U.S. service members wounded in the war on terror during post 9/11 combat.
“The example of these folks out here today is an important example for our fellow citizens,” Bush told ABC News’ Josh Elliott. “You can either be defeated or defeat your injury. They all have chosen to defeat.”
The golf outing is one of the signature events the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative holds to honor the troops and encourage veterans who are using sports in their recovery.
Capt. Matt Anderson, 30, was an infantry platoon leader whose life took a drastic turn when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan.
“What happened to me was that if you took a cue ball and you put it on a pool table and you smashed it with a ball peen hammer. Try and put that back together and make it roll right,” Anderson said.
After three years, 30 surgeries and constant lingering pain in his right foot, which he calls his “normal,” Anderson took up golf as a therapy of sorts. Now, he says he’s nearly a scratch golfer — meaning his average score for a round is par or better — and he spends his time teaching other wounded warriors the game.
“It’s the hardest game out there,” Anderson said. “But once they hit that one clean one that gets out there, you can see the little spark that gets in their eye and they’re like, ‘Let’s go do this again.'”
Anderson made the life-altering decision to amputate his leg. The surgery will take place in January.
Anderson said “there’s really no words” to describe what it means to have the support of the 43rd president.
“To have the full backing by the commander-in-chief, it’s our little Super Bowl every year,” he said.
For Bush, the feeling is more than mutual as he tries to give back to the military.
“I’m still looking for ways to stay engaged with the people that made a huge difference in my life during the presidency,” he said. “And our military personnel and the vets made a huge difference in my life, and I think in our country’s life.”
Bush said the courage shown by the Wounded Warriors is a great example of perseverance in the face of adversity and what “American strength” is all about.
“But every one of the people here who have said, ‘I’m not going to allow my injury to get me down and I want to live life.’ One way is to play golf,” the former president said.
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