(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week we catch up with golf's Ricky Gray, who's incredible journey from the military, to a college education, to his future plans, serves as a sense of inspiration.)
By Dave Sweet
Athletics Student Feature Writer
For the typical student, a college education is an expected steppingstone in life. The expectation from day one is that we go to college once we turn 18. And if we don’t, our lives will be unfulfilled and plagued by mediocrity. For men’s golf’s Ricky Gray, the path to a university education wasn’t so simple.
“I didn’t care too much for high school,” said Gray, a senior from Jaffrey, N.H. “I never really studied; never tried too hard on my schoolwork. I knew that at that point I still had a lot to learn and college wasn’t for me. So I joined the military.”
Gray enlisted in the army straight out of high school, at which point he was sent to Washington D.C. to serve as a member of the Honor Guard. The experience, Gray emphasizes, taught him a greater sense of appreciation.
“You’re constantly following someone else’s schedule. So you have to quickly learn to discipline yourself or you won’t make it. It makes you realize how good we have our lives; especially the small things that we take for granted every day. I remember the first day they took everything away from us: personal items, electronics, any source of communication. I remember that something as little as receiving a letter became a huge source of motivation for me, which is different compared to a world where people communicate instantly.”
Two years into his service Gray got into a serious car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury, and so for nine months he rehabbed at Walter Reed Medical Center in Virginia. It was during this time that he began to take lessons from a pro in the area, Jim Estes, who offered free lessons to veterans as part of the Salute to Military Golf Association (SMGA). Up until that point Gray had never touched a golf club.
“The first four or five months I started playing, I probably played more golf than most people play in a year and a half. I would go to the range and practice every single day for about four or five months.”
After a year working as a correctional officer, Gray decided he had changed his mind about college. Knowing the military could pay for his education, he applied to Franklin Pierce and joined the golf team. Through three seasons with the team he’s produced three top-20 finishes, and this past season as a member of the regular rotation he averaged a score of 81.4.
Currently in the process of applying to graduate schools, Gray hopes to put his degree in psychology to use once he’s completed his education.
“I’d really like to work with veterans,” he said, “and help them out with their adjustment back to civilian life. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to have a traumatic injury and then get forced back out into the world. I want to help those people.”
Ironically enough, Ricky Gray has found that the education he once loathed is maybe his biggest asset. That, and the discipline instilled in him by the United States Army.
“It really is strange to think about it. Ten years ago – even five years ago – I never would have imagined I’d be where I am today. There are a lot of people and a lot of places I could thank for that, but it would be too soon. I’m still not finished.”