KINGSMILL, Va - Denis Oliverio sat in his bed in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in Mid-October 2005 with a life-altering situation facing him and neither answer was one anyone should ever be faced with. He could have his left arm amputated and his life forever changed or he could have limb-saving surgery and go through grueling and painful surgeries and rehabilitation for years that weren’t even a guarantee to save the limb.
Four days prior he had been in a western province of Iraq giving commands as a Marine Corps First Lieutenant to his tank platoon when a pack of insurgents came upon them and a firefight ensued. Radio communication wasn’t working so he had to pop up out of the tank to give hand gestures to communicate to his men when a round from an insurgent’s AK-47 ripped through his left arm and lodged in his chest. His platoon member wrapped his arm in a tourniquet, and he was air lifted off to safety with a shattered humerus and a severed median nerve and brachial artery.
Ultimately, the Purple Heart winner decided the surgeries and rehabilitation were worth the pain – and the risk. It took 14 surgeries, 3 titanium plates and 23 screws, but he was able to save his limb.
“The pain was so intense that I would literally pass out. It was brutal,” he said.
There’s still the three fingers he can’t feel in his left hand, but there to help him the entire way was the cause he’s now devoted his life to – the Wounded Warrior Project. When Oliverio didn’t think he would ever be able to do anything with his left arm, the Wounded Warrior Project got him back out on the golf course and showed him he could and he would.
“I had to change my grip a little bit but I can swing a golf club and I can play,” Oliverio said. “It’s given me an avenue in which to feel whole again, and a way to compete with able-bodied people.”
Now a 15-handicap, he can’t get enough of the game and says he will have it down in single digits by the end of the year.
It’s the same resolve he displayed 2.5 years ago sitting in his home in Washington, D.C. when he decided that he had to pay it forward and help other veterans the way the Wounded Warrior Project had helped him. So he made a call down to the Chief Operating Officer of the Wounded Warrior Project, Al Giordano and said he wanted to work for them full-time. Giordano called back within an hour with a job and the marine with 20-years of service moved to Jacksonville, Fla., and now serves as the Wounded Warrior Project’s Director of Major Gifts.
So he was naturally thrilled when his two biggest passions merged with the CME Group announcing plans to donate $1,000 for every eagle recorded on Saturday or Sunday of a tournament by an LPGA player. That number now totals $103,000 to this point as Oliverio saw on a sign on Wednesday when he was at Kingsmill Resort to play the Kingsmill Championship Presented by JTBC Pro-Am.
“That’s phenomenal. That’s going to fuel programs that are saving lives,” Oliverio said. “We have 20 programs at Wounded Warrior Project and they are helping over 50,000 warriors. That’s pretty substantial.”
All throughout his interactions with the LPGA he’s found a wave of supporters. He previously knew Lexi Thompson’s family because in 2011, he got to follow her brother Nicholas Thompson inside the ropes during the final round at a Web.Com tour event, and she wears a Wounded Warrior Project pin on her during rounds.
“She loves what we do and she’s an avid supporter,” he said. “I’ve had that connection with Lexi ever since 2011 and she’s just phenomenal. What a great person she is.”
He’s gotten to know several more players the last two years at Kingsmill as well. Last year he played the Pro-Am with Beatriz Racari and had dinner with Commissioner Michael Whan. This year he was paired up with Belin Mozos and his team finished second in the Pro-Am.
Other players like Michelle Wie, Christina Kim, Ryann O’Toole were brought in by the 90-pound lab, Winchester, that acts as Oliverio’s service dog and goes with him everywhere; however, they left touched and moved by Oliverio’s story.
“He attracts some of the attention, but they couldn’t help but come over and talk to me and tell me how much they appreciated my service and the fact that they got to play golf simply because I gave them that right and I gave them that freedom,” Oliverio said. “I was so honored to hear from each and every one of them that I spoke to.”
It’s only fitting that a person willing to give everything – and nearly did – continually praises everyone else. He likes to say that he’s the clutch and the donors are the horsepower behind the operation.
“My deepest appreciation to the CME Group in providing this opportunity for Wounded Warrior Project to serve our warriors, and of course the LPGA and their part in that and the players for making these eagles,” he said. “I can’t thank these people enough. They are providing the fuel that’s saving people’s lives.”
Topics: Kingsmill Championship