Dustin Wilson has a story he wants people to hear. It's a story about heartbreaks, dreams, friendships, golf and miracles. But, it's mostly a story about 18-year-old Dustin Barr.
The two Dustin's first forged a bond five years ago at Piper's Heath Golf Club in Milton, Ont., where Wilson worked as PGA of Canada professional and Barr attended a junior golf academy. Since 2011, Wilson has coached Barr fulltime at his junior golf development centre in their mutual hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont.
It was this past March when the pair were working together indoors hitting balls and prepping for a spring tournament when both of their lives would be flipped upside down.
"I remember it well," Wilson recalls. "Dustin was hitting balls and started complaining that his stomach hurt and wasn't able to hit anymore balls."
"And I thought, 'that's really odd' because here's a kid who has never complained about anything; so I told him 'you better go see your doctor and see what's up.'"
Barr's trip to the doctor revealed the worst: two tumours—one on his pelvis and one on his pancreas—that were the size of golf balls.
"The original diagnosis was Undifferentiated Pelvic Sarcoma. He'd lose part of his pancreas and need a hip replacement," Wilson tells me. "As you can well imagine, it was life changing news for everyone who knew Dustin."
From March through August, Barr went through seven rounds of chemotherapy. All the while as Wilson puts it, "the kid played golf everyday and you'd never know he had cancer."
After his third round of chemo, Barr got some good news that the tumours had shrunk. He also received word along the way the Children's Wish Foundation had granted his wish to play The Old Course at St. Andrews.
Barr's family asked Wilson—who for much of the spring and summer had been spearheading numerous fundraisers, benefits and tournaments in Thunder Bay to benefit his young student—to accompany them on their trip to the home of golf in Scotland.
"To go on this trip as a PGA member would be more then you could ask for in a lifetime, but to be able to watch the history of St. Andrews change an 18-year-old boy's life with his family right beside him during a difficult time, was more then you could ever ask for," Wilson wrote in the Sept. 25 edition of the The Chronicle Journal.
The Scotland trip turned out to be more than just 18-holes of golf thanks to the generosity of Graham Proctor of the St. Andrews Legacy program. Proctor, the 47-year-old native of Glasgow with a helping heart, set them up with rounds at Muirfield and Turnberry's Ailsa Course; as well tours of the Edinburgh Castle, the Royal and Ancient; and lunch in the members-only dining room at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Wilson admits the entire trip was unbelievably inspirational, but says it wasn't until the final stroll down the fairway of the Home Hole at the Old Course when he realized just how impactful the trip really had become.
"Walking down the 18th at St. Andrews was the first time I can actually say I played a part making a difference in a kid's life," Wilson says.
"It was just awesome to see all the enjoyment in Dustin that day—laughing and fist pumping—all because of the great game of golf," he says. "I've worked hard in this industry for a long time and golf has truly given me my life, so to see just how meaningful golf is to a kid who is fighting the toughest battle of his life is miraculous."
Upon returning from the Scotland trip, the two Dustin's parted ways—Wilson returned to Thunder Bay, while Barr headed to the hospital for scheduled surgery on his cancerous tumours. After 16-hours on the operating table, the doctors emerged with news: the tumours were dead and his hip was saved.
"Who knows how this story will eventually end up, but you've got to give it to the kid for believing, fighting and coming out on the other side," Wilson says.
For the next four-to-six weeks, Barr will undergo physiotherapy on his hip. With the plan to continually build strength, Barr and Wilson will be back hitting golf balls indoors with one goal in mind.
"His goal is simple: he wants to earn an NCAA scholarship," Wilson says.
For a kid who has battled cancer through golf for the past year, there's no reason to believe his next goal won't be achieved.