When I was first introduced to 18-year-old Parker James, I forgot he had Crohn’s Disease. He and his mom were even visiting the news station for an interview about their golf tournament where they plan to raise $50,000 for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, and yet somehow I still forgot. You might be thinking, well, Inflammatory Bowel Disease is an invisible illness and the symptoms can’t always be seen, but that’s not why I forgot. It also wasn’t a lack of sleep (I get up at 3 a.m. for work, so it’s a common assumption). I forgot Parker had Crohn’s Disease because as soon as he introduced himself to me, I saw incredible confidence and vigor. I saw ambition, drive, happiness and contentment. These were all things I didn’t have when I was 18-years-old. No, no, no. I was either in denial that I had Crohn’s Disease, angry at my body for not being as healthy as I needed it to be, or in so much pain during a flare-up that I had no energy to think at all.
Parker is different. He is an honors student at renowned Saddlebrook Preparatory School in Wesley Chapel, Florida where he attends classes in the morning and trains at the Golf Academy in the afternoon. He is an avid surfer and plans to travel to Cyprus in the summer to ride the Mediterranean waves. He has traveled to over 30 countries and even lived in London, England for a few years. Parker plans to attend a college in California next year and major in Public Relations and Advertising. The most impressive trait of all, however, is his outlook on life with chronic illness.
After a few minutes of taking Parker and his mom around the newsroom before their interview, I remembered Parker has Crohn’s Disease. I find out he has Rheumatoid Arthritis, too. Needless to say, this sweet young man has already been through a lifetime of illness. He’s had flare-ups, debilitating pain, colonoscopies, mouth sores, trial and error with medicines, and the list goes on and on. Not only has Parker come to terms with his disease, he has learned to use it to fuel his passion for golf. He has melded his competitive and hardworking spirit with the humility and focus he has gained from Crohn’s Disease to become unstoppable.
Life Outside the Lights family, meet Parker James.
What’s it like being a teenager with Crohn’s Disease?
“It’s been kind of a roller coaster. It started when I was about 10-years-old and started off strong with lots of inflammation. It was tough to find out what medicine to use. I started with 6-MP and now I am on Remicade. Most kids are into the party scene and growing up I’ve had to stay away from all of that. That’s where going to a golf academy has really helped me stay on a good path.”
Yoga has really helped subdue my symptoms. Do you feel golf does the same?
“Everyone feels nerves and sometimes that upsets my stomach, but I feel that [golf] almost takes away other pains Crohn’s can bring. The nerves and focusing on golf and winning distracts my mind from the pain. I use golf to fuel me as a motivation. With Crohn’s, you can’t quit. Every day you are fighting. This compares to golf. [Crohn’s Disease] motivates me to rise and play better. With golf, no matter what day it is, you can shoot the best score of your life and still not be happy with it. I feel that Crohn’s has helped make me a better player and fighter.
Golf Fore Guts is the first golf tournament for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in Tampa Bay. Tell us about it.
“Being a second semester senior and being almost done with school, my mom and I figured this would be the best time to work on this event. We decided to start this and it’s going to be a lot of fun. The event takes place at Saddlebrook Golf Academy [in Wesley Chapel, Florida]. We have an auction with items including a 2010 Phil Nicholson signed master’s flag, a signed football from a Tampa Bay Buccaneers player, Tampa Bay Rays tickets and Titleist clubs. Hank Lebiota, a Web.com PGA tour player, is coming. I am excited to have him. He has Crohn’s Disease and if he can do it, anyone can.”
You may not be on the PGA tour, but you are already such an inspiration to kids with Crohn’s Disease who want to play sports. What’s your message to them?
“I am glad that I have the opportunity to inspire younger kids to not let their illness or disease get them down especially with athletics. With athletes, your body is your everything. I want to let kids know that with a disease you can rise above it and play. I was raised in Coral Gables in Miami, Florida. The weather is perfect all the time so you can play sports every day. I played football, soccer, and lacrosse. I tried to not let Crohn’s defeat me and hold me back and that’s the message I want to give kids with illness or really anyone. Don’t let anything hold you back from your passions and dreams.”
What do you tell yourself when you’re going through a flare up, but still want to live your normal life?
“Actually I have a little saying I created: ‘I am better.’ I have it written on my golf glove right on the thumb with a purple ribbon. I have a purple ribbon on my bags, hats, and this purple bracelet I wear. ‘I am better.’
Parker and his mom, Sara James, are hosting Golf Fore Guts on Saturday, April 14 at Saddlebrook Resort & Spa in Wesley Chapel, Florida. They plan to raise $50,000 for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Please consider signing up or donating.
You may also be interested in: “I Want to Prove you Can Do Anything: Crohn’s Disease Diagnosis Transforms Young Girl” and “Fearing a Crohn’s Disease Flare-Up Clouds Our Reality.”