Veteran Mike Jaborek Turns Isolation into Connection through Golf
By Jay Coffin
Mike Jaborek has a gentle spirit. He has a powerful golf swing, his handicap has dropped nearly 10 shots over the last two years and he’s always first in line to assist when playing with fellow Veterans who need a helping hand.
Because the game has brought him so much comfort over the years, he’s eager to show others how it can do the same for them.
Retired U.S. Army Sergeant (2003–08), the 39-year old Sugar Grove, Illinois resident answers the question, Encapsulate my military service. He does this graciously and eloquently. He begins to tell the story about the worst day in his life but he does so in a very matter-of-fact manner that it makes it seem like he never served.
It was anything but.
Serving with valor in Iraq
Jaborek spent all of 2005 in Iraq. He was stationed in Iraq for all of 2005. After he was transferred from Buqubah, all that changed. Jaborek explains that his crew was responsible as the eyes and ears on the battlefield. They were the watchdogs.
Just three weeks before he was scheduled to return home to the United States on Dec. 5, 2005 Jaborek was riding a mounted patrol as the gunner of a M2A2 Bradley while he and three others were traveling to the Ramadi Iraqi Government Center. Jaborek and Sergeant Second Class Larry Campbell were set ablaze when the tanker was struck with an improvised explosive weapon (IED). They tried many different methods to quell the flames but were unsuccessful. They found a pooling of raw sewage nearby. Both ran toward it. The job was done by jumping into the mess.
Jaborek doesnt recall any of this. A later injury report stated that both men were fired at during the nightmare. Campbell was then transported back to camp and airlifted to Balad. Then, he was flown on to Germany. Jaborek was flown to Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, six days later. He was left with burns on his arm, back and hand. One leg was broken.
Jaborek received a Purple Heart.
“I don’t look at it as a big deal because I made it home,” he says. “It’s hard to describe it looking back. The thing that bothered me the most was watching other men from there die. I would have done so much more for them. That’s where most of my PTSD comes from. Other guys didn’t make it home.”
Jaborek served another three years in the military and did a 15-month tour to Iraq. Thankfully, there was less action this time, but there were still many difficult nights and days.
The 9 was the first reason that people thought of joining the military./11 terrorist attacks. Jaborek was in college building homes for a living. He needed a break. He took the plunge and has never looked back. He’s thankful he had the honor of serving his country, but in Aug. 2008, he felt it was time to move on.
Golf is your rescue
It was difficult to make the transition from military life to civilian life. Jaborek knew what he wanted to do, but it wasn’t so simple. He enrolled in college and was enrolled within two weeks of his Army retirement. He was taking accounting classes at Illinois State where he would eventually graduate and get a job. He currently works for J.P. Morgan, where he underwrites mortgages.
But he was still drinking heavily. He was drinking too often. He was pulled over one evening and charged with driving under the influence, something he’s embarrassed about, but owns and has learned from.
Over the past decade, golf has been one his most important coping mechanisms.
Jaborek was familiar with the game since childhood. While he played the game often in middle school, he was also interested in other sports. He was a high school teacher, which consumed most of his time. He estimated that he played a maximum of 10 rounds during his military career.
Jaborek was watching television and saw an advertisement for a Veteran golf military organization that offered rehabilitative golf programs as well as clubs for post-9/11 injured Veterans. That was the kick Jaborek needed to get back in the game.
He enjoyed his time at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville. He was selected to compete at the Warrior Open 2018 in Texas, an event that he raves over and which is run by former President George W. Bush with the Bush Center.
Then Jaborek’s interest in the game ratcheted up two years ago when he first heard of PGA HOPE, which had a program at a golf course close to him. The charitable foundation of PGA of America, PGA HOPE is a flagship military program of PGA REACH. It introduces golf for veterans to improve their physical, mental and emotional well being.
Jaborek then met Kathy Williams who was a PGA HOPE Lead Instructor and was running a session on Veterans Memorial Golf Course. They’ve been friends since.
Jaborek was so serious about his first six-week program that his handicap immediately dropped to a 20. He believes that his handicap was down to a 12, a couple of months after completing the program. He now plays to an 10.
He’s obsessed with all facets of the game – his own, helping other Veterans and helping the PGA HOPE program grow. It’s one of the reasons why Jaborek was selected to be the Illinois PGA Section’s PGA HOPE Ambassador, which means he was one of 20 veterans chosen to participate in the program’s National Golf and Wellness Week last October in Washington, D.C.
“He’s such a gentle giant,” Williams, an LPGA Professional, says. “He doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s very powerful.
“He’s the type of guy who is always willing to help. He’s always there early and always staying late. He’s one of those guys who is always thinking about the needs of others, not just himself. I absolutely love that about him.”
Turning isolation into connection
Golf helps Jaborek cope with PTSD. It affects him almost every day. Certain roads can cause him problems. He’s not particularly fond of seeing trash on the side of the road. Potholes are a major trigger. He’s had night tremor flashbacks and occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night yelling for help.
Oftentimes he’ll touch something that instantly makes him think about the most difficult days.
“Something like that can shut me down for an hour,” he adds. “I’ll look up and I can’t believe how much time has gone by.
“But it’s something you have to learn how to deal with.”
Jaborek is married with three children. He has a 7-year old twin boys and a 6-year old daughter. Kristina, Jaboreks wife, can sense when her husband is struggling and can tell when he is frustrated. That’s when she insists that he goes to hit golf balls, which is something that isn’t always the easiest to accomplish during winters in the Midwest. But it’s working and Jaborek feels like he’s in a good place, especially with the spring right around the corner.
Ask Jaborek about his golf goals and you get a terrific sense of his gentle soul and thirst to help others who are in the same boat. He’ll mention a few things he’d really like to accomplish within his own game, but he can’t help himself from quickly pivoting to talk about others.
“I want to shoot even-par on 18 holes just once,” he says. “A hole in one would be nice, too. My real goal is to help as many veterans as possible, create camaraderie and have more clinics.
I dont want to feel isolated, I want to make connections. Contact Veterans and reach out. It’s my ultimate goal in this game.”
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