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Who is behind the mask

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Medford Grinch Britton Munoz doesn’t see a single child to whom he’d care to wish a Merry Christmas.

But he hears them by the hundreds.

While going from a busy life as a police officer to “a blind guy wondering what to do next” could easily turn most folks into something more jaded than the notorious Grinch, those who know Munoz best would explain that he’s the big-screen Grinch after his heart was warmed by the holidays.

On a recent evening, Munoz waves at kids riding with their parents and grandparents down Cherry Lane.

“Don’t steal Christmas this time!” says a small boy from the window of a mini van.

“Not for a few more days!” he responds with a smirk.

“Be nice!” says another.

“OK! Merry Christmas,” Munoz smiles back. “You can get out and take a picture if you want.”

Despite health complications that began with childhood diabetes and evolved to a heart attack — he also had a quadruple bypass, detached retinas and kidney failure — his wife, Tatyana, saved his life with a donor kidney in 2014.

As a result of his health journey, the retired Cottage Grove police officer says he sees life more clearly now than ever before.

In addition to being the Cherry Lane Grinch for the past half-dozen years, the father of five grown children has taken up golfing and plans to travel for the international Cairns Cup, a tournament between disabled golfers from the U.S. and Europe scheduled for Sept. 7-13.

He’ll be the only golfer from Oregon and one of only two blind golfers on the all-disabled team. He’s also, he notes, the only Grinch.

Munoz says he never “gave a second thought to golfing when I could see,” but he “got a wild hair” one day.

Now, Munoz plays at various golf courses around the Rogue Valley each week, often playing better than sighted golfers. He also trains twice per year with his own professional coach in Arizona.

Munoz says his outlook on being blind is similar to his portrayal of the Grinch — one of gratitude for the experiences he’s been able to have.

Tatyana says when they moved to Cherry Lane, locally well known for its light displays, the neighbors gave them a heads up about the expectations at Christmas.

Munoz’s family knew that the neighborhood was in for a treat with Munoz.

“When we moved here, as soon as we found out this street was all about Christmas, he was so excited. He’s always loved Christmas. He loves decorating for Christmas. Everything about it,” she says.

“Our first Christmas here, he says, ‘I just really wanna dress up as the Grinch and pass out candy canes for Christmas! What do ya think?’”

Six years in, Munoz is as anticipated as Santa himself. Local trolley tours, which sell out well before the holidays arrive, offer the promise of “maybe getting to see the Grinch.”

“We hand out thousands of candy canes each year — thousands and thousands. The trolley shows up, and I just jump on and people love it. I just really get into it,” Munoz says.

“Some love me. Some scream. I have adults that freak out about me, boyfriends who video me scaring their girlfriends. Sometimes it’s slow and a lot of standing here, but when people are coming by it’s just so much fun. And when that one little kid runs up and hugs you ... it’s all worth it.”

Most passersby are unaware of his inability to see them as they high five, crack jokes and beckon him over to their cars, Tatyana says.

“I’ve had people ask me, if I could get my vision back, would I want to?” Munoz says.

“And I tell them the answer is actually no. And that’s because I’ve met so many wonderful people because of my vision loss. And I’ve had so many incredible experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I had not lost my vision.”

Waving at a grandmother laughing from the front seat of a car heading down Cherry Lane, Munoz adds, “Life is too short to let things get you down. And it’s definitely too short not to make the best out of the things you’re given in life.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

The golfing Grinch

Britton Munoz, aka the Medford Grinch, will host a local golf event in June to raise money for his trip in September to the Cairns Cup, an 18-hole, Ryder Cup-style competition held each year for disabled golfers from the U.S. and Europe.

He’s raising money, as the Grinch of Cherry Lane, to cover travel expenses for himself and his coach.

For information about the tournament, or details on donating toward his trip, see his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MedfordGrinch/

To donate online, search for “USA disability golf team” at www.gofundme.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneBritton Munoz, aka The Medford Grinch, takes picture with a local family outside his Cherry Lane residence in Medford Monday evening.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneBritton Munoz, aka The Medford Grinch, waves to cars driving by his Cherry Lane residence in Medford Monday evening.