Although he has suffered his entire life from cerebral palsy from the hips down, Tanner Sparks has not let it slow him down.
Since his time at Western High School, Sparks has been an active gym-goer. If he was not able to get into a gym, he made sure he participated in some kind of at-home workout. Today, Sparks, 28, has kept the same dedication and determined to keep up his body strength – especially in his legs. Sparks said his biggest motivation came from his children and a few of his coworkers who attend the gym with him.
“I have two kids. I don’t want to end up in a wheelchair and not be able to do things with them later on,” Sparks said. “My co-workers at work, we hold each other accountable for what we’re doing. We make sure that we build each other up.”
Sparks currently goes to the gym four to five times a week with his coworkers and focuses on incline benching, weighted pull-ups, deadlifts, and squats. He has attempted to do one-legged Romanian deadlifts (RDLs); however, this exercise has been difficult on his left leg due to the deterioration of his hip socket. For the same reason, Bulgarian split squats have been impossible for him.
However, Sparks said he currently is trying to set up a hip replacement surgery, hoping this will improve his range of motion.
When the gyms were closed due to COVID-19, Sparks said he did not let it stop him from getting his workouts in.
“I have a pull-up bar at home. I would put my feet up on the coffee table and do different types of push-ups. I do a lot of ab workouts. I take milk jugs and fill those up, do squats with those. Sometimes I would take my daughter’s backpack because it was the only thing that would be … secure enough for me … I would fill that up with two, sometimes three, jugs if I could do it. But I do those step-ups while I hold onto the pull-up bar,” Sparks said.
When Sparks was born, his hips were halfway out of the socket. This was not discovered until around the age of 2. Following multiple surgeries, he was unable to walk until he was 4 years old. Sparks had several more surgeries during his childhood, forcing him into a repetitive cycle of being in a wheelchair, using a walker, using crutches, and relearning to walk again on his own.
As a child, Sparks knew he walked differently than other people, but he did not “miss” what he had never known, he said.
“I’ve known this since birth, so I don’t know anything else. It’s not something that I necessarily miss. I feel like the CP is a part of me now at this point. People say things happen to you, and it makes you who you are and stuff like that. That’s kind of how I feel about it. That’s the best way to look at it,” Sparks said.
Sparks has never been able to ride a regular bicycle due to poor balance; however, with help from his father, he could enjoy a ride.
“At one point, my dad actually duct-taped my feet to the pedals of the bike that we had. At that point, we had one of those no-tip bikes. But the way my feet are, it was hard for me to keep them on the pedals. So he actually duct-taped my feet to the pedals so that I could ride the bike, and then he would ride with me when I rode my bike,” Sparks said.
Growing up with a noticeable physical disability, people were afraid to ask questions, said Sparks. To clear up any “questions” and also humor himself about his unusual gait, Sparks got a handicap placard tattooed on the back of his leg.
“I like it because it’s funny, for one, but that way there’s no question. Anybody who grows up with any kind of visible and noticeable disability, a lot of people are afraid to ask questions. Or they’ll come up to you, and same thing, ‘I don’t mean to offend you, but what happened?’ I get a lot of that,” Sparks said.
Since his disability was not noticeable while sitting down, Sparks said he has gotten in trouble by employees at grocery and retail stores for utilizing the motor shopping carts. Walking long distances and in large crowds can be difficult for Sparks when he has nothing or no one to assist and no way to sit down for a while. However, Sparks said now he can go into a store without driving a cart as long as he is making a quick trip.
Sparks currently resides in Greentown and works for FedEx Ground in Kokomo.