Jeffrey Reed’s Inspirational Story of Hope & Determination
"Pursuing your dreams is what life is all about." – Jeffrey Reed
Too small. Limited by physical disabilities. A big heart, tons of talent, tireless worker – but too many obstacles. Jeffrey Reed has heard these words during his entire life, but he never gives up hope when pursuing his dreams, on the playing fields and in the competitive world of journalism. Jeffrey’s goal for telling his story of hope and determination is to inspire others to reach for the stars in pursuit of their own dreams.
Jeffrey was born in London, Ontario on January 5, 1962. Doctors told his parents, Ken and Marlene Reed, that because Jeffrey was born with club feet – and as would be recognized and diagnosed later in life, other skeletal birth deformities, including Scoliosis – their first-born child would never walk properly, let alone run and play sports. As an infant, Jeffrey first was fitted with a cast on his underdeveloped left leg and severe club foot. When it was removed, he wore a special pair of shoes connected with a steel bar to correct his club feet. His left foot never corrected itself, but this didn’t stop him from beginning his amazing story.
Jeffrey’s first word was "ball." No surprise. Beginning at age 7, he shone on the baseball diamond, playing all positions and excelling as a right-handed pitcher with a blazing fastball. And despite his club feet, Jeffrey displayed speed on the base paths and in the outfield unparalleled by his peers. But there was a price to pay: constant pain in his feet and legs that required almost daily care. Jeffrey says, "I was a kid, and I loved baseball. Sure, there was a lot of pain at the end of the day, but I thought that was normal. I persevered, and I played for the love of the game."
At age 15, and almost ready to listen to baseball scholarship offers – or perhaps even consider a career as a professional baseball player – Jeffrey suffered another setback on the diamond. Although he threw a no-hitter during his third start in four days for his bantam ballclub, the strain was too much for his right arm and shoulder, and he suffered a tear in his trapezius muscle. Today, doctors point to his then-undiagnosed series of skeletal deformities. "I wore a neck brace for the rest of that summer," remembers Jeffrey. "The severity of the pain was unbearable. I’m told I passed out three times in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. To this day, my right arm hangs lower than my left and creates additional physical challenges."
Determined not to let his debilitating injury end his baseball career, Jeffrey returned to the diamond, and to the mound, despite the fact he had to learn to pitch all over again. The injury made it difficult for him to throw overhand, so he adopted a sidearm delivery. Despite his club feet, he also ran cross country races for the Montcalm Cougars. "I recall after a 5 K race being barely able to untie my shoe laces, let alone walk back to the school bus," remembers Jeffrey, "and there were times I couldn’t practice because of the pain. But I ran." And, he played a number of sports, including golf – a game for which Jeffrey would later discover he had an even bigger passion.
As a youngster, Jeffrey’s father would encourage him to skate, but the pain in his feet was too severe, and trips to the local arena would last only minutes. But at age 16, Jeffrey found a mentor in his neighbour and friend, Peter Costello. The two would skate for hours in freezing temperatures on the frozen Fanshawe Lake, Peter showing him the ropes of stopping and skating backwards. By the end of that winter, Jeffrey was playing pickup hockey – he was one of the fastest skaters, too – competing against some of the best high school players in London. Says Jeffrey, "When I look back, I always had people encouraging me to achieve my goals: my father, my Little League coaches, and then Peter, who also ran cross country with me. We would run for miles in the rain, just to improve. We were never satisfied with just competing – we wanted to win!”
After junior baseball, and with part-time jobs and school filling his schedule, Jeffrey left competitive hardball and played Slo-Pitch baseball on local industrial league teams, and won multiple MVP awards. However, he still had a burning desire to prove himself as a pitcher. In 1985, he faced his first rejection from the semi-pro London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball League. "At age 23, small at 5'8" and without any semi-pro experience, the team wouldn’t even let me try out," remembers Jeffrey. Where there’s a will, there’s a way: Jeffrey briefly joined a new senior team, the London Royals, and impressed both on the mound and in the outfield before being cut from the team. "I should have started with that team, but politics interfered,” recalls Jeffrey. “But that’s OK. I understood even then that some things are out of your control. But I relish the fact people tell me I can’t accomplish things, because I’ll work harder than anyone I know in order to prove them wrong. I didn’t make the Royals roster, but other surrounding teams bid for my services as a pitcher," remembers Jeffrey. “However, I didn’t want to leave London, so I put pitching on the shelf – and I thought, for good."
Since age 7, Jeffrey was a regular at London’s Labatt Park: from operating the old manual scoreboard in right field, to coaching Little League teams, and later calling play-by-play of Majors Baseball on local television, Jeffrey and London baseball were inseparable. For years, he was known as the “baseball guy” in London. He says, "Coaching the kids in the early 1990s was an invaluable experience. To be able to share my knowledge of the game, and more importantly, act as a role model for youngsters was truly an unforgettable experience." In fact, Jeffrey coached the bantam league Eager Beaver Baseball Association West Lions Giants to a pennant championship in 1991.
“EBBA threw together that 1991 ballclub at the last minute. It consisted of youngsters who were considered underachievers, and without a place to play. We were real-life Bad News Bears,” says Jeffrey, laughing. “But just as I have had to do my entire life, we relished the fact we were considered underdogs. We worked harder than any other club, and in the end captured a pennant.”
Two years earlier, in 1989, using his education in journalism from Fanshawe College of Applied Arts and Technology, and his God-given gift of writing, Jeffrey formed his own company, Jeffrey Reed Reporting, celebrating a 30th Anniversary in 2019. "A lot of people – even some close friends and family – told me I would never make it as a freelance journalist," says Jeffrey. "I knew better. I believed then, as I do now, that no one works as hard as I do, on the playing field, and in the business world. Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda once said, ‘The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.’ This is so true! Never, ever give up on your dreams!" Today, Jeffrey is a leading Canadian communications professional, with newspapers and magazines publishing his byline across North America. He has captured seven national and international writing awards.
Baseball runs through Jeffrey’s veins, so at age 38 he decided to do the impossible. Jeffrey says, "To me, the London Majors were like the New York Yankees. I knew in my heart I could compete against the best in the Intercounty Baseball League. And I knew if I was going to do it, I had better do it now before Father Time took its toll. But at the time, I didn’t know what larger obstacles would stand in my way."
During 1998, Jeffrey was the play-by-play voice of the Majors, but in 1999 he decided to leave the press box and return to the field. He was out-of-shape, overweight and battling his physical limitations which had proven more challenging through the years and continue to challenge him each and every day. But his younger brother, Greg, encouraged him to work out at the local GoodLife Fitness Club where he was a personal fitness trainer. "Greg was a living example of the importance of physical well-being," says Jeffrey. "I got back into great shape. But during that spring, I was catching in the bullpen, and the next day, I couldn’t get out of bed, the pain was so severe. I had a history of lower back problems, but I didn’t know that the problem was more threatening than a pulled muscle."
Jeffrey’s family physician ordered extensive x-rays, a CAT scan and eventually an MRI. To everyone’s surprise, it was discovered Jeffrey was living with multiple spinal irregularities including Spina Bifida Occulta, a birth defect that 40 years earlier had gone undetected. "It explained a lot of injuries and discomfort I had experienced over the years," recalls Jeffrey. Surgeons were consulted about possible surgery – one suggested emergency surgery – but it was decided that the best possible medicine for Jeffrey was an active lifestyle, which he continues today as a low-handicap golfer.
“I thank God I am not wheelchair-bound, as one doctor suggested I may be once I reached my 50s,” says Jeffrey. “As a former client of the Crippled Children’s Centre of Western Ontario, now the Thames Valley Children’s Centre, I feel for those children. I know I must keep active – within reason – and I thank God for golf. It really has been my saviour in a physical sense.”
But back to baseball. The year 2000 was a miracle year for Jeffrey. He returned to Labatt Park, this time in great shape, and with a better understanding of how to care for his tender back. While his pitching ability would definitely be an asset to the Majors ballclub, the new manager, Ron LeClair, decided Jeffrey would best help the team as 3B coach. "Without really knowing much about my baseball background, Ron saw something in me that led to me running the show from the coach’s box at third base," says Jeffrey. "I owe an awful lot to Ron for opening a door which previously had been shut in my face. And I worked hard for Ron and the team – harder than any of the young players. I wanted to set an example for them, and I didn’t take my golden opportunity for granted.”
Jeffrey would often arrive at the clubhouse six hours before game time, working out, first on his own, then with the arriving players. He gave 100 per cent – it was the only way he knew how. During the 2000 season, Jeffrey yearned to pitch for the ballclub. "Just one batter – that’s all I wanted," says Jeffrey. "Sure, it sounds hokey. We’ve all seen the movie, Rudy, and learned about his miracle on the gridiron with the Notre Dame football team. I was no different. The Majors were my Notre Dame. I was almost 40 years old, and had never pitched at the Intercounty level. And, I had my physical challenges."
Jeffrey found a new love for coaching during that 2000 campaign, and he never complained – not once – about not pitching, even when the team could have benefitted from his skills. "It’s a cliché, but I was just happy to help the ballclub," says Jeffrey. "And to dress in the fabled Majors dressing room, putting on the pinstripes and running out onto the diamond at Labatt Park? It was a dream come true. I should have pitched that year, and some players told me I would have helped the ballclub, but I did not complain once. Maybe I should have, but that’s not my style."
But the dream wasn’t over for Jeffrey, who had a burning desire to pitch in the Intercounty league. For eight straight months, he never missed a day in the gym. In 2001, the Majors had a new manager, team owner Arden Eddie. Jeffrey’s status with the baseball club was questionable, and a number of internal problems plagued the team. But Arden kept Reed as 3B coach – and signed him to a player’s contract for the season. "I’ll never forget signing that contract," says Jeffrey. "I was in tears. It was a dream come true. But I wasn’t done. I wanted to pitch – in a real game. Let’s be clear, though: my desire never interfered with my coaching. Rather, it helped because I was in such good physical shape, I could hit ground balls and throw batting practice for hours. And, it’s always good to lead by example."
Dedicated to coaching, Jeffrey didn’t pitch at all during the entire regular season – until the very last game, at Hamilton’s Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium. "Again, I didn’t complain once all season to manager Eddie," says Jeffrey. "Sure, I was being overlooked. Again, politics reared its ugly head. And there were some players on the team who thought I was a showboat – selfish – in my dedication to working hard to keep in shape when I wasn’t coaching at third base. They just didn’t understand my enormous physical challenges, how far I had come and how far I still had to go to realize my dream."
On July 23, 2001, Jeffrey’s dream came true: he pitched an inning for the Majors – a scoreless 8th inning, and in true Hollywood fashion, struck out the last batter he faced. That batter was Sean Reilley, today the Intercounty’s all-time home run king. "Anyone who knew Arden knew he was a crusty, old-style baseball manager, in the style of Ty Cobb, and tough to get along with, to say the least," says Jeffrey, "but for whatever reason, he put me in that game, and I thank him for the opportunity. I still get tears in my eyes when I reminisce about that night in Hamilton. There are times when I ask my wife, Beth, who inspired me every day to pursue this dream, did I really do that? Did I really pitch for the London Majors? It truly was a dream come true."
On Opening Day 2016, the Hamilton Cardinals invited Jeffrey to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to launch their Intercounty Baseball League season. It was Jeffrey’s first return visit to Bernie Arbour Stadium, an even that was very emotional both for him and his wife Beth. The Cardinals hosted the Kitchener Panthers that day. Reilly was now the Panthers’ DH, and he caught Jeffrey’s ceremonial pitch.
Jeffrey retired from baseball after the 2001 season – oh sure, he had aspirations to play for other teams, but it wouldn’t be the same, not without the Majors pinstripes. The Kitchener Panthers asked him to run the show from the 3B coaching box, but after 33 years in the game, it was time to put baseball on the shelf. With baseball retirement creating a big void in his athletic life, Jeffrey needed another competitive outlet. He found it in golf, a game he has played since age 11 but never with as much dedication as he shows today.
"When I played and coached with the Majors, there were games when I was so beat up physically, I couldn’t even untie my shoes at my locker – just like my high school cross country days. That’s no exaggeration. Hot baths and pain killers helped me get through the summer. I can say the same today, thanks to my tireless commitment to bettering my golf game," explains Jeffrey. "I practice until my hands bleed. I spend hours at the range and on the course bettering my game, all the while caring for my back as best I can. And there are days when my back is so tight, my swing looks like a rusty gate. It’s embarrassing! But I don’t buy the belief that I should just feel fortunate to be able to golf despite suffering from Scoliosis, Spina Bifida Occulta, a protruding pelvis and club feet. I want to compete – to the best of my ability!"
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Jeffrey hit golf balls for eight straight hours in 2010 as a fundraiser for the London Anti-Bullying Coalition. "That eight-hour marathon was an incredible test of mental toughness, and I saw it as another challenge that could also raise money for charity," says Jeffrey. The next year, he tackled a, eight-month running column for the weekly newspaper, The Londoner (Postmedia) in 2011. Entitled, Out Of My League, the column chronicled Jeffrey’s exploits as he suited up with some of the best athletes in London – playing tackle football with the CCH Crusaders, practicing with the National Basketball League of Canada champion London Lightning, and even cheering with the 26-time national champion Western Mustangs cheerleading squad – on national TV during the Yates Cup, no less.
And compete he does. In 2004, Jeffrey lowered his handicap to single digits and recorded his first hole-in-one. In 2005, with a handicap index of 4.0 and Beth caddying, he set a course record 8-under 62 at Caradoc Sands Golf Club in Strathroy. Incredibly, Jeffrey lowered his handicap to scratch in 2008, and to a plus-handicap in 2018. Says Jeffrey, "There are those who doubt my abilities on my bad days when my back, legs and feet are sore. I hear the snickering and the doubts, sometimes even from those who are close to me. I forgive them – they don’t understand where I’ve been, and where I want to go.”
“But I’m not out to prove anything to anyone but myself,” says Jeffrey. “One of my favourite recording artists, Amy Grant, whom I’ve had the opportunity to interview, once said, ‘More important than talent, strength or knowledge is the ability to laugh at yourself and enjoy the pursuit of your dreams.’ Hey, I can really stink up the golf course some days – no excuses! – but I’m very proud of my hard work and my ability to, on any given day, compete with the best of them. In fact, at a recent custom fitting at the TaylorMade Golf Canadian headquarters, the professional staff there offered words of encouragement in my journey as a golf pro, and said I could even play better than my handicap suggests. Those words meant a lot to me.”
Jeffrey’s message is one of hope. "My favourite bible verse is Romans 15:13: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ If you dream big and work hard, you can achieve anything. I’m living proof of that. Think about it: out-of-shape, never pitched semi-pro baseball, physical challenges and facing discrimination from club management – and 39 years old! Yet I lived my dream: I pitched for the semi-pro Majors. It’s a work ethic and passion for life I carry with me on the golf course, in business and in my family life. Live every day to its fullest: that’s my message."
Jeffrey continues to live with some physical challenges. His club feet worsen a little bit each golf season, and his back pain – while under control – is constant. Other skeletal issues have surfaced, too, requiring medical attention. But, true to his spirit, he marches on, determined not to let his challenges hamper his determination to be a champion on and off the playing field. In fact, he is a sponsored golfer with product support from companies including adidas Golf, Antigua Performance Apparel and PeakVision Sunglasses. In addition, Jeffrey was a 15-year Staff Advisor with Wilson Golf, and today proudly carries a Titleist bag as well as playing a full line of Titleist equipment.
“One thing I talk about when speaking to groups is the fact each and every one of us has a special story to tell,” Jeffrey explains. “We’re all equal, and we can all learn from each other’s stories of beating the odds. Listen, nobody is perfect. I’ve made some big mistakes during my lifetime. And I have days where I ask God, ‘Why me?’ But it is through Him that I continue to compete in business and now on the links. We live in a negative world – a cynical world. But let me end with a familiar bible verse, and a quote from golf legend, Arnold Palmer:
2 Timothy 3:17: “That the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Arnold Palmer: “I’ve always made a total effort, even when the odds seemed entirely against me. I never quit trying. I never felt that I didn’t have a chance to win."