Fortitude; Heart; Opportunity; Darts

George Silberzahn holding a 70th birthday cake
George Silberzahn on his 70th birthday’ (Photo: Sandie Silberzahn)

Sport offers unique opportunities for an individual to experience the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” even when the level of prowess is neophyte. From the youngest to the oldest among us that special feeling of preparing for the competition and competing provides a good and necessary addition to our lives; even at the amateur level.

Everyone who participates in any sport, no matter how serious the commitment, is limited by their abilities. Those with significant limitations need the sport to be modified in some manner in order to participate equally; most of the time. But there is a sporting endeavor which is not like that.

People with physical limitations join the legions of amateurs who are devoted to this sport, and follow its own bit of professional activity, because they learn there is also something more, something special about it. And that something special is that they are not so outstandingly different that they require special consideration. That sport is Darts.

The struggle to be as good as can be is impressive enough when observed in general but in darts the heart exhibited by those with physical limitations gets barely noticed during play of the game. Spectators have their eyes glued to the dart board; eagerly await the landing of the next dart. Who is shooting and how they are doing it is not as important as where the dart lands. That is why taking a moment to appreciate the fortitude and heart of the physically limited player may not happen so often. And that is a most impressive part of the dart game.

There is such a broad range of prowess among darts enthusiasts that everyone can find a level at which they can compete. Participation in the effort to get the most from a person’s innate ability through nurture and training is a shared experience. All participants recognize everyone is struggling with some degree of physical limitation and the limitation is measured only by how close the dart lands to its intended target.

As many as twenty million people have Darts as part of their life, just in America. Among these people are many who have extraordinary limitations but enjoy the added dimension to their life that Darts offers. So I pause here to recognize the fortitude and heart of all those to whom we Darts people may not ordinarily pay all that much attention. Here are the stories of four of them.

Wayne Crook

Wayne Crook is 61 years old and was introduced to darts while serving in the military during the early 1970s. The sport has intrigued, frustrated, excited, and challenged him for more than 35 years; even through difficulties.

A back injury made picking up darts from the floor difficult. His range of motion was limited to the point that picking up darts became embarrassing and he left league competition. A second uncorrectable back injury made picking darts up from the floor impossible and his dart playing days in public were over for a few years, but he continued to play at home. He figured out ‘how-he-could’ instead of dwelling on ‘why-he-couldn’t.’

On top of his existing difficulty the driver of a crew cab truck going about 50mph ran a stop sign and crashed into Wayne’s vehicle. The result was the total destruction of Wayne Blazer and, almost, him.

The most significant injuries were to his spine which made it so, among other things, attempting to raise his head caused total loss of feeling and control to his right arm (he’s right handed).

It took three months of recovery and rehab before he could walk unassisted and when he stood at the dart board he could only raise his head high enough to see the lower half of the board. All feeling and control of his right arm was lost. Fine motor skills like throwing darts and signing his name had to be relearned.

Regaining his dart game became his goal and its improvement became the measure of his recovery. He was starting from scratch and a darts learning program became his Rehab Program. His time was spent in wrist- finger thrust exercise, stroke development, and dart grouping practice. He began with two 10 minute sessions at the dart board every day. In two months his endurance improved and he went to 20 minute sessions. He became able to stick the darts within a circle of 2” or less. A month later he could raise his head enough to see the entire dart board and feeling was regained in his right arm. He has progressed to two sessions of 25 minutes with one of them being a specific drill regimen designed to perfect accuracy.

“My goal is to achieve the accuracy and endurance I require to take on an open tournament. I believe this accident was simply an inconvenience that has provided the opportunity to make my game even better. Semper Fi, Wayne Crook”

Jim Chatterton

Jim Chatterton was sponsored for Darts. Traveling to tournaments around the nation he won the American Darts Organization ranking of fourteenth place. He suffered a brain stem stroke and remained hospitalized for several months. His whole world collapsed. His diagnosis for walking again was pretty slim and he was also diagnosed with Gerstmann’s syndrome. There are many factors involved with Gerstmann’s syndrome, but the main ones are: unable to read or write; unable to distinguish between different fingers on the hand; permanent loss of sight on the affected side; unable to distinguish from right to left.

The effects are permanent for Jim. He was wheelchair bound and entered intense therapy at a local neurological rehabilitation unit.

At home, alone and safe from the embarrassment he felt, he began throwing darts again. He slowly got used to his eyesight problems. His accuracy returned – albeit painfully slowly – and he had to relearn all the mathematical shots. He realized that all finishes are the result of patterns, and he still knew the patterns. Using this method he was able to quickly re-establish all of the mathematical shots back into his damaged brain.

It was a year later, after he got home, that he went out to play darts. His left side was still paralyzed; he was in a full sized leg brace and had a hemi-walker to keep him stable. His left arm would not work and he was unable to hold anything in his left hand. He had people pass his darts to him one at a time and somebody else retrieved them from the board.

His arm gradually began to regain some strength, and he is now able to grip items like darts, knife, fork, etc. with little problem. He is unable to raise his arm very high as his shoulder is constantly sore, but he is able to work around this problem. His eyesight never improved, and never will. He has sight through one half of his right eye only. He is unable to read or write and has massive problems with anything remotely to do with mathematics. He has found methods and tricks to get around just about every problem he has. He has software in his laptop that reads and writes for him and his cell phone has photographs of all his contacts.

He made his return to serious competition with appearances in four tournaments. Following the fourth tournament he collapsed at the airport when he returned home. He was ill because he pushed his body too hard. He was very disappointed and did not play darts for over a month.

Two months later he attended another tournament and he came home determined to have one more go at Darts aimed squarely at the top end; which is where he believes he belongs.

He began to practice again with the Professional Darts Corporation’s tournament in Chicago his goal. He joined an on-line darts learning program and received some valuable insight into what correct practice is all about, and more importantly learned about the benefits of rest and recuperation. In short, he is listening to his body and being more professional in his approach to life in general and in his approach to darts in particular.

“Darts is my main focus in life. It is the spur that is driving me to improve physically and mentally after my stroke. I am determined to get back amongst the top echelons of players, both here in the USA and back home in England (I am British, moving to the USA in 1999).” Jim Chatterton

Glen R. Huff

Seattle darts fanatic Glen R. Huff with the late Barry Twomlow, Vegas 2003
‘Seattle darts fanatic Glen R. Huff with the late Barry Twomlow, Vegas 2003’ (Photo: Huffsnapz)

Glen was born with cerebral palsy, and he walks with the aid of two canes.

He first got into darts while in College at Western Washington They had a student recreational center with an assortment of pool and snooker tables, pinball machines, and one coiled paper dartboard on a corner wall of the room. He’d already tried his hand at the other recreations and decided to give darts a try since he was not good at pool, pinball, etc. He gave Darts a try and liked it right from the start.

After graduating from WWU he moved back home, discovered the local dart league, and got involved right away. He’d never had a sport growing up and Darts and Darts league were the first activities he found that gave him an “in”, in that he could participate to the best of his ability, and be accepted by his peers. His own particular stance setup and throw is different from the optimal style due to his legs being less stable than a non-handicapped person. He is short, at 5 ft tall, which has always made it harder for him to get the darts to the top of the board consistently.

He has over 50 books on darts in his darts library. Although he has a long way to go to get his own physical consistency and performance where he would like it to be, he is seeing improvements in his game from using what he found in one of his books. That improvement has brought a lot more enjoyment to the game for him.

He says he’s been very fortunate in that he’s made many wonderful friendships thru the sport of Darts, not only in his local league, but with folks halfway around the world where the common love and appreciation of Darts was enough to get a friendship started. Since 1987 he has traveled once a year to Las Vegas to watch the Las Vegas Desert Classic Dart tournament, and as a pub-league player it’s been a real thrill for him to see up close the professional dart players play. The chance to chat with them, and get photographs and autographs, has been quite an experience over the years.

One year at the Las Vegas Desert Classic, World Champions Phil Taylor, and Bob

Anderson gave him the darts they used, which was a real thrill for him. He is someone who collects dart sets, dartboards, books on the game, and tapes of darts matches. Getting such sets from the pros, and getting to meet them has been something which he’ll always treasure.

“I’ll continue playing darts, whatever my level of ability, because it has given me so much over the years. One of the things that’s kept me participating in darts for 25 + years, is the fact that anyone can do it, men can play women, short players can play taller players, young players can play older players, and language differences are not a barrier, it’s truly a great sport for all I have always wished to get as many folks playing the game as possible; my thought being if I can play it, then anyone can play it.” Glen R. Huff.

Eileen Willis

Eileen started playing darts in 1976, still plays the game and she is Captain of her dart team. She’s had two incidents of injury during that time; an automobile accident and a fall at work. The automobile accident caused her seven months of recovery from face, breast, wrist, arm and pelvis injury but she didn’t miss many of her dart team’s matches through whole seven months. She sat on a stool and took her turn while others fetched her darts for her.

The fall has been another thing altogether. The damage to her lower back put her in a brace and caused her to use a cane. She took physical therapy but not being able to walk or stand well eventually cost her job and put her on disability. Over time she recovered enough that she can walk without the cane but the injury has brought on arthritis in both hips and both knees. Prior to the accident Eileen played darts seven days a week but she cut back severely after.

Since everyone has off days for one reason or another her dart team mates see her as no different from everyone else. They care about her personally but see no other affect from her limitations. Each person shoots their darts as best as they can on each turn at the dart board.

Eileen doesn’t see her limitations having effect on her dart prowess. She believes she competes against the dart board not the competitor and all limitations leave her mind while she is shooting her darts but when it comes to walking the 7’9” to retrieve the darts they come back.

She recalls being at the top rank of players as her high peak and intends to return to that level. She calls it going from peak to peak.

“My darts go with me everywhere; weddings, funerals, baby showers, everywhere. And I don’t care how old or decrepit I get I’ll still be playing darts.” Eileen Willis

© 2008 George Silberzahn

Posted October 2008


Thanks George for allowing me to feature your tremendous and inspirational article here on my website. It will have a lot of folks (including me) thinking more about darts in a way that perhaps they have never felt before.

Many visitors to this website will know of George’s work, especially in relation to training new and established darts players to improve their game. George published his authoritative work ‘How to Master the Sport of Darts’ in 2004 with a Second Edition following in 2008. Published by Totem Pointe of Columbia, MO: Totem Pointe, George’s book ( ISBN 0-9746462-4-4) is recommended reading.

George also has an impressive website where you can learn and improve your skills and even ask George questions about the sport. Visit it soon. I can guarantee you will be impressed.

 © Patrick Chaplin 2008 (Updated 2012)

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