Golfers tee up to help Wounded Warriors

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 3:48 p.m.

The rolling hills and lush landscape of Diamond Run Golf Club in Ohio Township stood in stark contrast to the dusty battleground in Iraq where a roadside bomb injured Mike Heller's back and killed a fellow Marine eight years ago.

Standing at the clubhouse Monday with the sprawling course behind him, Heller expressed gratitude for the community support and more than 100 people who participated in the eighth annual charity golf outing to benefit Wounded Warrior Project, sponsored by Downtown-based nutrition retailer GNC.

“Whether you support the war or not, they support the troops,” said Heller, 32, of Ohio Township. “This community has been incredibly supportive.”

Since its inception in 2006, the golf tournaments have raised more than $500,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project and other initiatives to help injured veterans, said Chris Long, 44, an Air Force veteran who founded the event. With money raised this year, that amount is expected to approach and possibly eclipse $600,000.

Other charitable organizations that benefit include Austin's Warrior Playroom Project through the Mario Lemieux Foundation, Darkhorse Benefits for job training for disabled veterans, and the University of Pittsburgh's Wounded Warriors and Veterans Educational Assistance Fund created to honor Blairsville native Jeremy Feldbusch, a Pitt graduate.

Shrapnel from a detonated artillery round in Iraq blinded Feldbusch, an Army Ranger, in 2003.

A slate of 144 golfers signed up to play this year, continuing the outing's sellout streak.

“We never have trouble with that,” said Long, an account manager with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based high-tech firm NetApp.

Players included 12 veterans and eight GNC employees who won spots through a company raffle that raised more than $5,000 in ticket sales, said Laurie Drinkhall, a spokeswoman. This is GNC's seventh year as lead sponsor.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based Wounded Warrior Project has 13 offices in the United States and Germany, including a Pittsburgh location opened last year, intended to help more than 50,000 service members wounded in recent military conflicts, 320,000 experiencing traumatic brain injuries and as many as 400,000 suffering combat-related stress, major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2005, then-Sgt. Heller suffered a back injury when a land mine explosion ejected him from a Humvee. His unit spent three hours battling through a sandstorm before getting medical attention for their injuries. The unit's team leader died along the way.

Heller, who left the Marine Corps the following year, experiences chronic back pain.

Now a merchandise planner with South Side-based American Eagle Outfitters, he is a golf tournament committee member.

At Diamond Run, he said, “People walk out of their houses to marshal each hole and thank the Wounded Warriors. I've never seen anything like it.”

Jason Cato is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or

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