The DOORS Golf Challenge – How it Started
By Mike Maron
Our founder weighs in on his journey with autism and the roots of a golf tournament that’s funded programs for kids and adults with autism for 21 years.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of my son Greg’s autism diagnosis. The first thing that popped into my mind when my wife came back from the developmental pediatrician and gave me the diagnosis was “there’s no way he has autism. We do so many fun things together. I mean, ok, he’s two years old and only says “mama and dada, but he’s so active and affectionate, and to me he was perfect, I see him every day”. Being a first-time father, I had no reference to compare him to, so I did not realize he was not hitting his milestones. I was so in awe of Greg and in denial, I didn’t see that his progression had leveled off, and in some areas (speech and eye contact, for example), he was regressing. I remember running down to my local library to learn about autism thinking, “these books are going to show me I’m right, that Greg is fine”. I remember taking Greg to the pediatrician and we told him about some of this, he said not to worry, boys tend to develop later than girls. My mother-in-law had noticed Greg had hit this plateau after 18 months and suggested we find a developmental specialist, and the specialist gave us the diagnosis.
At the library, I pulled a couple of autism books from the shelves. I didn’t even sit down to read them because I figured “I won’t be here that long because Greg is nothing like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man. I’ll just read a little bit just to double-check to make sure I’m right”. As I read more, I began to realize that these books were describing Greg to a T. My heart began to race, and I tried to remain calm. I kept reading. Now I’m really starting to panic inside and I started getting light-headed. And when I read the fateful words, that there is no known cause and no cure for this disease, I nearly fainted. I grabbed onto the shelf to keep from falling. It was real, Greg had autism, and it was no joke.
I decided that day that I would have to go to war with autism and do whatever I could to get my son back.
Fast forward two years. I’m sitting in a small room with other parents at Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center. It was “Back to School Night”. A distinguished gentleman, parent of a 19-year old young man with autism, got up to expresses his concern about what would be the future of his son after “aging out” of the school. Very few programs existed for adults at the time. At the end of his plea, he breaks down crying. That hit me like a Muhammad Ali right hook. I thought, if this man is brave enough to show his vulnerability, it must be really serious. After all, that could be my son’s future as well unless we did something. That’s when I jumped in to act, and started the event I hope you will be playing in, our 21st annual Golf Challenge.
Through the work of DOORS, the parent association, in collaboration with the Douglass School, the lives of children and adults at the DDDC have been enriched with an after-school program, summer camp, adult services, weekend respite, and so much more. Greg attended the after school program for many years as well as the summer camp. He learned how to roller skate through this program and when I saw him getting so much pleasure out of it, I went right out and bought a pair of skates for myself. Greg and I have been skating together for over 20 years now. It has brought us so much joy.
This year, through the extreme hard work of my great friend Rich Walters, we are excited to expand our event and bring in a new Title Sponsor – EA Berg Associates. Now two organizations are pooling their efforts to raise funds for autism and cancer. We’re happy to help out the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack Meridien Health. I hope you will join us for a memorable day on the links for two great causes.
Golf Challenge Founder
Carry on Mike and Greg's legacy on September 24th!