Dave Gearing remembers his 21st birthday night more clearly than most Americans probably can. He was living with relatives in Ireland at the time, and was walking home when a neighbor’s sheep dog began to chase him. Gearing sprinted through the darkness as the dog ran barking in pursuit. Gearing looked over his shoulder at just the wrong moment — he ran right into a ditch and fell flat on his face. This wasn’t any ordinary ditch, as the aroma quickly made apparent. It was filled with cow manure.
Gearing can laugh about it 30 years later. It was less than a decade before he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and nearly 20 years before the MS advanced to a degree that forced Gearing to retire from his job with the U.S. Treasury Department.
Gearing attended Gaithersburg High School, where he played varsity golf before he graduated in 1972. "He was a typical young man, just into sports, active and vibrant," said Lou Rubino, a Potomac resident whose wife is Gearing's aunt.
He went on the University of Maryland and graduated in ‘76, then to St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. Gearing never practiced law, though. He worked for a contracting firm for several years, then went on to work as a program analyst at the U.S. Treasury Department until multiple sclerosis forced him into retirement in October 1992.
Tom Branthover of Kensington met Gearing in the 1990s, through their mutual friend John Lynch of Bethesda, who attended law school with Gearing. Upon meeting, Branthover and Gearing realized they’d known each other as children. Lynch, Branthover and Gearing decided to hold the inaugural Brave Dave Open in 1999 to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Since the first Brave Dave Open, Branthover’s daughter, now 12, was diagnosed with Type I (insulin dependent) diabetes and Lynch’s son, now 18, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Three years ago, they decided to expand the scope of the charities their tournament beneifts, and proceeds now go to both the MS Society and the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association. "It’s a small world, but it also emphasizes how prevalent the autoimmune diseases are that John, Tom and I should all [experience this]."
"We’ve been really fortunate … Word spreads and people have been really generous to us." Branthover said. "We’ve met a lot of people, and had a lot of fun."
It’s the fun part that Branthover and Gearing stress. Few people are likely to talk to them without having at least a few laughs, and Branthover refers to himself and the tournament founders as a "bunch of idiots." So even while they’re serious about the causes that the tournament benefits, they intend the tournament to be reflective of their friendship and senses of humor. Gearing also considers the Brave Dave Open, in part, to be a reunion for people he has known through several stages of life — high school classmates, fellow University of Maryland alums, and families affected by autoimmune diseases.
Gearing does not accept any of the proceeds from the Brave Dave Open. He has a progressive form of multiple sclerosis, and he no longer has full function of his hands as he did when the tournament started. He now lives in an apartment in Gaithersburg, and a caretaker helps him get out of bed, eat meals and undergo physical therapy each morning. These tasks become harder for Gearing with each year, but he stays upbeat. "He’s a trooper, man," Branthover said.
"Dave has touched a lot of people in his life," said Andrew O'Lone, an accountant from Potomac and an annual participant in the tournament. "He never bellyaches about the hand he was dealt."
Rubino, managing shareholder of Rubino and McGeehin, said that Gearing makes the Brave Dave Open stand out. "Often times, you really can't see the benefit and you can't see the people you're trying to help. This is different; this is very different."
As he has in each of the previous Brave Dave Opens, Gearing will attend, and will give a speech at the end of the day’s events. And just when the conversation turns serious, Gearing asks for feedback on the speech he’s writing for this year, then begins: "Four score and seven years ago …"