SYRACUSE — Having both of his legs amputated when he was just 11 months old has not stopped Hunter Woodhall from becoming an athlete and a leader.
The active 13-year-old Syracuse Junior High School student spent the week of Oct. 1-7 in Las Vegas at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, raising awareness for the hospitals that provided him with three pairs of prosthetic legs.
The golf tournament is the PGA Tour’s Las Vegas stop and is the product of Justin Timberlake teaming with Shriners to benefit the hospitals.
“Anything I want to do Shriners will help me do it. If I put my mind to it I can do whatever I want,” said Hunter, who is serving as a Shriners Hospitals for Children ambassador for 2012-13.
“Our job is to raise awareness for the hospitals, and speak to events where people may or may not know what Shriners is,” he said.
The ambassador program for Shriners has really taken shape over the past three to four years, said Fabiana Lowe, public relations and media manager for Shriners International Headquarters.
“Every child is an incredible story … We have always highlighted stories of patients overcoming difficulties with Shriners help. We are just doing it in a more organized and formal way. We try to help children and patients, and give them the tools so they can represent Shriners for Children,” Lowe said.
Lowe said the organization selects two ambassadors each year from a pool of applicants from all 22 Shriners hospitals.
Ambassadors are invited to Shriners signature events, the national convention and other conferences. They are also invited to speak to local Shriners audiences around the country. Lowe said ambassadors typically attend between four and seven events during their term.
Hunter spent the week meeting pro golfers and even receiving a golf lesson from Casey Martin, the men’s golf coach for the University of Oregon. He was also a standard bearer — carrying the score sign — for a group that included PGA pro Ryan Palmer.
“I have a lot of work to do,” Hunter said of his own golfing skills.
He also met and interviewed celebrities, including George Lopez and Justin Timberlake.
His interviews are on his Facebook page and on his YouTube video diary, which documents his activities for the week.
“I want to raise awareness that (Shriners) gives children a new life and hope, and something to look forward to in life,” Hunter said.
Hunter’s mother, Barb Woodhall, explained that when Hunter was born, his doctors in the public health system were able to diagnose his condition, but they did not know how to fix it.
Doctors found that Hunter was born with fibular hemimelia of the left leg, or a shortening or absence of one of the two bones in the calf. In addition, his right ankle was fused.
His parents eventually took Hunter to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa, Fla.
“Shriners specialized in four areas: orthopedic, burn, cleft palate and spinal issues. That’s their specialty. That’s all they do, so they have great knowledge and expertise in those areas,” Barb said.
Shriners helped Barb and her husband, Steve Woodhall, make the decision to have Hunter’s legs amputated.
A few months later, Hunter was fitted with his first prosthetic legs at the age of 15 months.
Now in eighth grade, Hunter has three pairs of prosthetic legs: one pair for everyday activities, basketball and football; another pair specifically for wrestling, which are essentially a leg without a foot; and a third pair he calls “cheetah legs” that he uses to run track.
“Shriners has really helped throughout the years. I can play sports and do the things I love,” Hunter said.
Barb said that Shriners was very helpful in many ways, including financially.
“Shriners will treat patients regardless of their ability to pay, if their condition fits what they can treat. It’s refreshing … one less thing to worry about,” she said.
“They have made him be able to live life as a normal child for the most part. He is fully mainstream, and able to do everything his friends do. They have given him a life he wouldn’t have had otherwise. They are very good about working with all their patients and making them comfortable with who they are.”