Wounded warrior finds silver lining at golf classic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- At 11 months old, Maverick Mast is just getting the hang of walking. Fortunately, he can lean against the legs of his dad, Brian Mast.
Those legs, a combination toy and prop for the smiling toddler, are a marvel, the latest prosthetic technology has to offer to the double amputee. They are curved in the back, a stylized version of calf muscles. His knee joints are fitted with gyroscopic microprocessors to help him maintain his balance.
Mast’s state-of-the-art legs are one of the good things that resulted from a decade of American troops grievously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“So many young men were injured that the military was forced to build better prosthetics,” he said.
His humor is martini-dry, his demeanor unruffled by the guarded looks directed his way as golf fans flow by him in the lobby of the PGA National Golf Resort.
Mast, who was an Army staff sergeant, and his comrades Alex Trujillo, Jorge Zapata and Manuel Colon, are at the Honda Classic to draw attention to a couple of charities: Caddies for the Cure, which aids victims of Fanconi anemia, a rare bone marrow disorder, and Fairways for Warriors, which provides veterans with golf instruction and clubs. The four veterans, all wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, caddied for a celebrity foursome that consisted of saxophonist Kenny G, sportscaster Ahmad Rashad, Hall of Fame golf champion Raymond Floyd and Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed.
This is the Kenny G Celebrity Pro Am, sandwiched in Wednesday afternoon between practice rounds of the Honda Classic. Tiger Woods is here, of course, and a wealth of other famous golfers dogged by autograph seekers as they leave the practice area.
Despite the heady atmosphere, this is not even close to the most auspicious occasion for Mast and his wife, Brianna. They were the guests of first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, at the State of the Union message. White House aides were recruited as their babysitters.They also had Thanksgiving dinner with the Bidens.
“Actually, Jill Biden invited me to the State of the Union,” said Brianna Mast. “I asked her if I could bring Brian.”
Mast’s job in Afghanistan was finding explosives in the dark so his team could safely do their job. On Sept. 19, 2010, he told his team to stop.
“If I was a bomber, this is where i would have put one,” he said.
A buried bomb exploded under him.
“My guys applied tourniquets on my legs and my arm.” He indicates a scar on his left forearm so jagged that a Hollywood makeup artist could never have dreamed it up. He doesn’t even mention the missing finger.
“And all I could think of was, ‘Man, I hope I did a good job because it’s really going to suck if they take the same route back and there’s another bomb.’ ”
He was strapped to a stretcher and given a fentanyl “lollipop,” a fast-acting pain-killer.
The doorbell rang at the Masts’ Fort Bragg, N.C., home at 7 a.m.
“They said, ‘He’s OK, he’s OK, but he lost his legs,’” said Brianna Mast, 33. “Fortunately, my mother was there with me.”
Ever the military wife, Brianna Mast packed her older son, Magnum, who was then still a baby, and drove to Washington, D.C.
At Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., Mast was surrounded by others in the same predicament.
“Going into the summer fighting months, there could be 30 or more guys missing one to four extremities,” he said.
The family stayed there for Brian Mast’s treatment until Feb. 1, 2012.
It’s hard to balance this unasked-for celebrity with the realities of raising two young sons and holding down a job, but somehow the Masts are managing to pull it off. They live in Fort Lauderdale, and Brian Mast commutes to Miami, where he works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They hope to move soon to Key Largo, where a veterans support group – one of three that offered — will build them a home customized for Brian Mast’s needs.
Mast attended Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach and played rugby with a Boca Raton team.
He’s a silver-lining kind of guy, working on an economics degree with Harvard University’s online program.
“I figured, ‘Why not the best?’ ” He hopes to complete his degree in 2015.
From the first tee, Kenny G’s group immediately has a slight downhill to navigate.
Maverick on one hip, Brianna Mast maneuvers the stroller over to the spectators’ rope line. She is worried that her husband might take a tumble on the slick grass.
Sure enough, Mast wobbles, but his celebrity golfer, Ed Reed, has got this. He offers Mast his shoulder for support.
“Downhills are the worst,” she says. “It’s a pride thing.”
One hole down, 17 more to go.