A series from Golf Ireland bringing you the stories from some of the most interesting golfers and personalities across golf in Ireland.

Words by Darragh Small 

Fiona Gray has had joint injections and nerve blocks for stabilisation. She's had multiple trips to the chiropractor and rehab courses to help solve her lower back issue.

It is almost 25 years since she suffered that injury and when you factor in the subsequent dislocated shoulder which resulted in a labral tear, and ten surgeries on her left knee, it is amazing to think she can still swing a golf club.

Not only that she also represents Ireland and competes at the highest level on the G4D circuit. Now her next aim is the ISPS Handa Irish Open for Golfers with a Disability next week.

A little help from Truffle

The journey continues for Gray and she knows she would not have got this far were it not for her eight-year-old trusty lieutenant.

“Truffle is my therapy dog,” said Gray.

“She is a labradoodle, and she is registered. I just got her reassessed and re-registered so looking to bring her down to more events. 

“Truffle has helped me through. When I wasn’t able to play golf when I was in England for a while, Truffle just got me out for walks. It’s therapy getting me out socially. We went to schools to help children overcome their fear of dogs.

“She has a smile on her face when you come in through the door and keeps me company when I’m low.”

Getting into golf

Gray’s parents, Geraldine and Desmond, both played golf and her mother had been Women’s Captain and President at St Patrick’s Golf Club.

That is where Gray first learned to play in her teens while she also played hockey and cricket competitively. She represented Ulster and was part of the Irish U-23 setup in cricket. Injury curtailed her progress, and instead, she pursued her golf career alongside her exploits in the army.

Joining the Royal Artillery

Gray was also an accomplished swimmer and was a lifeguard before joining the Royal Artillery in 1995. There she was stationed in Larkhill as part of the 32 regiment. Then after seven-and-a-half years and her back injury, she was transferred to Adjutant Generals Corps, with her first posting to Thorney Island.

“I was working in the stores. We were lifting the big tyre you have for tractors and I got a little twinge but didn’t think anything of it,” said Gray.

“I went to the gym that night and my back went into complete spasm, I’ve always suffered with that area. That’s probably what has been the big problem.”

Gray remained at Thorney Island for three years and then she moved to Winchester for another three-year stint. She eventually ended up in Colchester and her dislocated shoulder meant she did not get stationed in Afghanistan.

Her last rank was Corporal and although she had three operations to stabilise her shoulder and ten on her knee, she still kept up golf.

“I had just played at the club level and my handicap was about 18, nothing low,” said Gray.

“And then I joined the army and my handicap started to come down because I was playing in competitions and through that career I played Army level combined services and Hampshire County.”

A determination to play golf

Her back is her main constraint to this day however Gray has also had meniscal repairs to her knee. She had two high tibial osteotomies to realign. She had to wait for the pin to be taken out for that recovery and then go back and redo it, before a full knee replacement two years ago now.

It has been a gruelling process but she continues to keep up the game she loves where she is in her second year as Women’s Captain at St Patrick’s. Meanwhile, the mechanics of her swing have been adjusted.

“I’ve always had determination to play golf, whatever ability I could,” said Gray.

“Sometimes I can’t get through the ball, the coach says to get through the ball and I struggle. You can be in the range with the coach, and he’s telling you to constantly get through the ball but that actually puts more pressure and I can’t do that.”

Competing on the G4D circuit

Gray has pivoted to suit the dynamic of her new swing and she is as competitive as ever on the G4D circuit.

“Last year I won the Rose Ladies Series at Wentworth. I came second in Woburn last year and this year I came joint-third but my results weren’t great,” said Gray.

“I didn’t hold on for the last three holes in Woburn last year and the winner went birdie, birdie and that went through me slightly, but it is what it is.

“It’s all experience and what I’ve learned from it and what to bring forward for each competition.”

Next Tuesday the ISPS Handa Irish Open for Golfers with a Disability tees off with Gray looking to secure another big win.

“Its great that ISPS Handa has come on board and really given us support to go and do all the events,” said Gray.

“I’m one of the top females with a disability and I want to really showcase women with disability playing golf. It’s ok to go out there and do it.

“It is tough competing against the boys, that’s the only thing but it gives me a bit more talent than club life and that’s what I enjoy, more competitiveness.”

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