Ryan and Kait Gray [Submitted]
Golf tournament honors Ocala couple’s baby girl
Ryan and Kait Gray had only been in Ocala for six months when their world turned upside down.
Twenty-nine weeks pregnant with their second daughter, McKenzie, Kait Gray suffered a placenta abruption which occurs when the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before birth.
Kait Gray was rushed to the hospital while neighbors watched over her year-old daughter, Palmer, until Ryan Gray could get home.
Due to blood loss, Kait Gray doesn’t remember much about her ride in the ambulance but remembers not expecting the baby to survive. Her thoughts were with Palmer and remembers not wanting to leave her behind. She asked paramedic not to let her die.
“Let’s just figure this out,” Kait Gray remembered thinking. “Let’s just keep me alive.”
The next thing she recalled was waking up in a hospital room at Munroe Regional Medical Center, where she learned that McKenzie was alive.
“She was actually pretty tall and big,” she said.
Born about 11 weeks premature, McKenzie was transferred to UF Health Shands in Gainesville where she lived for three days.
Kait Gray, still in the hospital in Ocala, got the call at 1 a.m. that McKenzie was fading. She persuaded nurses to let her travel to Gainesville to be with her daughter during the baby’s final moments.
“That girl lived another eight hours,” Kait Gray said with a smile. “We got to sit with her, sleep next to her. We got to hold her, have our time. And then she passed on her own. Just her and I and our family in a really small room.
“And then life was never the same.”
At first it was difficult for the Grays, but they found comfort in the Ocala community. Soon, they wanted to do something to honor their late daughter.
Both part of the golf community, Ryan and Kait Gray decided an annual golf event would be the perfect way to celebrate McKenzie’s life.
Before taking the job as director of golf at Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club, Ryan Gray played professionally throughout the Philadelphia and North Florida PGA sections, while his wife played college golf at Loyola-Chicago.
After McKenzie’s funeral, which was held at Golden Ocala, hundreds showed interest in a golf tournament honoring McKenzie’s memory.
“It was just a huge turnout,” Kait Gray said. “Everyone signed up and then you fast forward and three years it’s a celebrity golf tournament. We’re our own 501c3… it’s just blown up into this lifeform. Which, it won’t replace her, but it’s the second-best thing we could do.”
Through the first two “McKenzie’s Moment” golf tournaments, both hosted at Golden Ocala, the Grays raised $235,000 for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of North Central Florida, which offers a place to stay for families of patients at Shands.
The third annual McKenzie’s Moment golf tournament is set for April 25-26. And this year, the money raised will stay in Ocala.
McKenzie’s Moment kicks off on Sunday evening with a pairings party, where teams of four will learn which celebrity they will play with. Teams bid on celebrities prior to the event.
This year’s tournament will feature 32 celebrities, including Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey Jr. and Florida Gators football head coach Dan Mullen.
The celebrity lineup also includes a slew of golf professionals, including Ocala’s Ted Potter.
Teams will play on Monday at Golden Ocala.
Benefiting from this year’s tournament will be four local organizations, including Project Hope, Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, Never Say Never and AdventHealth.
“It’s not necessarily something that’s ever going to be just a golf tournament,” Ryan Gray said. “Our goal is to make it a year-round charity with events going on where people are raising money for Ocala and charity.”