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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Sep. 14, 2018 1 year ago

West Orange golf coach Kevin Valentine survived, then thrived, after tragedy | Observer Preps

More than 20 years removed from an accident that cost him his leg — and nearly his life — Kevin Valentine is committed to helping others, whether as a pastor or in his new role as coach of the West Orange boys golf team.
by: Steven Ryzewski Senior Sports Editor

Kevin Valentine awoke in a hospital bed on Christmas Day in 1997 with his wife and a doctor standing nearby, having a conversation.

Of course, he did not know in that moment he was in a hospital bed, or why his wife, Melissa, and the doctor were talking at length about a man who had lost his leg.

“I’m listening to them, and I start feeling sorry for this guy — and I have no idea why my wife is so interested in this guy who lost his leg,” he said. “Then it hits me. I’m in a hospital bed. I think they’re talking about me.”

Kevin, who had just come out of a 10-day coma, interjected into the conversation to ask if they were talking about him. And if the silence that followed didn’t fully confirm his suspicion, then what he saw when he looked toward the end of the hospital bed did.

“I looked down and where my left foot is supposed to be is just undisturbed bed,” he said.

That was more than two decades ago, and a lot has happened for Kevin since then. He is the lead pastor at Kensington Church Orlando, which meets at Windermere Prep in Horizon West, and the team chaplain for the Orlando Magic. Most recently, he became the head coach for the boys golf team at West Orange High School.

A lot has happened since that cold night in Michigan, but the impact it has had on his story — and his faith — has endured.


The tragedy

When paramedics arrived on the scene of his accident on Dec. 15, 1997, Kevin was not breathing. They figured he would be dead by the time he reached the hospital. 

A youth pastor in Michigan at the time, he had been helping a parent change a flat tire when a car going 50 mph crashed into the vehicle — moving it 30 feet — before it crashed into him.

Kevin made it to the hospital, but that was only the beginning. During 10 hours of operation, he flat-lined twice, and it eventually became apparent to the doctors that they would not be able to save him and his left leg. At the time, he was 24 and Melissa — whom he had just recently married — was 23 and tasked with making an unenviable decision.

“They just said, ‘We need to amputate his left leg, because if we keep trying (to keep it), we could lose him again, and we don’t know if we’ll get him back,’” he said. “She’s just processing this going, ‘Is he ever going to forgive me for this if I make this decision.’ After a few minutes, the doctor says, ‘It’s his leg or his life.’”

Melissa made the difficult decision, and Kevin survived.

“I was an athlete. ... That’s where golf comes back into the picture.”

There was much weeping that Christmas — tears of sadness and also of joy, because he had survived without any brain damage. The young couple quickly went about putting their lives back together.

For Kevin, there was a fundamental challenge as he embraced life as an amputee. A college golfer at Oakland University who had also played some professional beach volleyball, being active and competing was central to his identity.

“I was an athlete,” he said. “That’s where golf comes back into the picture.”

It took four months of recovery before he could be fit for a prosthetic leg and an additional year before he would walk without a cane or walker. Once mobile, Kevin considered the idea of returning to golf but was uncertain whether he would be able to play — and whether, if he could not play at a high level, he would even want to.

In the early 2000s, while still living in Michigan, he took up the game again. One year later, he broke 80 on a round. In 2002, he had improved enough to qualify for the Michigan Amateur. In 2005, he learned of and began competing in the National Amputee Golf Association. Two years later, he won the first of two NAGA National Championships.

In short, he was back and as competitive as ever.

“You’re really playing against the best amputee players in the world, so to win that was pretty awesome,” he said.


The faith

Originally from Texas, Kevin got involved with Kensington Church while in college in Michigan. In fact, he delayed pursuing a professional career as a golfer in favor of exploring a role as pastor, to which he felt God’s calling.

Faith played an important role throughout his recovery, and years later, Kevin and Melissa felt called to help Kensington plant a church in the Orlando area.

“To me, church should be fun — it should be joy-filled, and there should be laughter in it.”

“We really want to reach people (who) are far from God and break their paradigms about church,” he said. “To me, church should be fun — it should be joy-filled, and there should be laughter in it.”

The Valentines joined about 100 other members of Kensington in Michigan and moved in 2009 to West Orange, where they initially began having services at West Orange High. After a few years in Winter Garden, the congregation moved to Windermere Prep, where it has been for the past five years. 

The church is set to open new offices in Winter Garden in October, in the shopping center that houses 4 Rivers, and the Sunday services soon will move from Windermere Prep’s gymnasium into its newly completed performing-arts building.


The triumph

As lead pastor for Kensington Orlando, Kevin has a lot going on — but he missed coaching. The Valentines have four children, and he had previously helped out coaching his sons — Garrett and Travis — while they played football for the West Orange Wildcats.

Now that his sons are in high school and playing for the West Orange High football program, he found himself without a team to coach.

“I’m not coaching anything — and I’ve always coached something, for the most part,” he said.

Indeed, after playing for Oakland University, Kevin helped coach the school’s men’s and women’s golf teams for four years while also teaching the game on the side at various times. 

As fate would have it, West Orange Athletic Director Jerry Shafer and his family had started attending Kensington, and when Shafer learned about Kevin’s background in golf, he felt he had found the perfect person for the opening the school had for a boys golf coach.

"I know what it takes to get to the collegiate level — I lived it, played it and coached it."

Kevin was hesitant at first but eventually agreed to take the job this past summer, and he is one-third of the way through his first season as the team’s coach. He has taken over a program that is rebuilding after the opening of Windermere High ravaged its roster, and he has big goals for his program.

“I know what it takes to get to the collegiate level — I lived it, played it and coached it,” he said. “I want to build a program that is getting kids as far along in the game as they want to go — and maybe even beyond.”

For a program that was once a regular state-title contender, Kevin and his assistant coach, Bill Milot, are aware this rebuild will take some time. There are golfers who attend West Orange who they know they will have to recruit back to the varsity team, and there are players on the team currently who they believe they can help improve.

“I’m really impressed with where they’re at so far,” he said. “They’re getting better and they’re having fun.”

Kevin has a lot of knowledge to share about the game, and he believes the game can be a great conduit for teaching about life.

Two decades after he nearly lost his life, Kevin looks back on that night cold December with a sort of understanding that only time — and faith — can provide.

“I’ve been around the block enough and worked with enough people through the church that I would say, ‘Everyone is an amputee in some way,’” Kevin said. “Everyone has experienced loss, everyone has experienced tragedy, everyone has woken up and wondered, ‘What happened to my life?’ 

“I really believe that with God’s help and God’s leadership, those tragedies become triumphs.”



Steven Ryzewski was the Senior Sports Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and Southwest Orange Observer....

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