Some People Are Real Champions. More than 200 of them showed up for the annual SPARC adaptive aquatics day Saturday at the First Lutheran Church Camp at Possum Creek.

The acronym actually stands for Sports, Arts and Recreation of Chattanooga, but what happens on the third Saturday in July every year is a tribute to determination and dedication. Beating last year’s record, 219 volunteers and disabled participants and family members were present for the latest day of adaptive water skiing and other fun on the water.

“It was really fun,” 18-year-old Aaron Boone of Rossville said late in his first SPARC day, after he had water skied and taken two rides each on a pulled tube and a WaveRunner.

Brittany Locklear, 13, of Ringgold echoed his feeling. Back for the second year in a row, she had added a kayak ride to the other adventures Saturday.

Brian Penny is a relative old pro. The 17-year-old Sale Creek resident said he thought this one was his eighth SPARC day but admitted he has “lost count.”

Penny has spina bifida but is a 13-year tae kwon do student also trying jiujitsu this summer under Rick Hall. He rides bikes and has played wheelchair basketball. He and his dad Martin, who lives on Signal Mountain, always attend SPARC day and sometimes have gone to Knoxville, Nashville or elsewhere for extra adaptive skiing.

Rowdy Bickley and his family from Ringgold — wife Susan and daughters Bailea and Ricki Lynn — took part for the third year in a row after a dirt-bike accident in January 2005 left him with physical and brain injuries. He’s 42.

“What we love the most about this,” Susan said, “is it’s fun for all four of us. The third Saturday in July is marked on our calendar permanently.”

Steve Hatfield, a 27-year-old graphic designer who lives in Chattanooga and works in Dalton, called the day “very fun” as a first-time participant Saturday. He contracted polio as a boy but camps, hikes, fishes and does “anything outdoors, pretty much.”

Hatfield moved from Iowa four years ago. Brad Waller came from its capital city, Des Moines, for Saturday’s gathering. Injured in a car accident 21 years ago at the age of 14, he was at SPARC day twice while working as director of ticket operations for the Lookouts from 1995 to ’97. He then moved back to his home state but came to Chattanooga to see some friends on Friday and to ski and encourage others on Saturday.
“It’s truly a wonderful event,” he said before leaving for home. “It gives disabled people and able-bodied people an opportunity to engage in ways otherwise they might not, and it gives the able-bodied an opportunity to find out what folks with disabilities go through.

“I was an athlete and I know I missed competition after my injury. I think events like this give the disabled a sense of something like that.”

A teenager he chatted with at one of his previous SPARC appearances, Stephanie Dodd, was paralyzed from the waist down in a car wreck but since has become a local and international inspiration with her wide range of accomplishments, including U.S. Disabled Water Ski Nationals trick titles.

Dodd, now 28, hadn’t skied in a year before hitting the water Saturday, she said — she had a broken tibia last year, her boyfriend’s been through “a couple of surgeries” and she’s working two jobs — but she still managed to pull off several 360-degree turns and even a 720 despite being “rusty” and “out of shape,” in her words. She repeatedly praised the driving of young Tim Stultz in the MasterCraft pulling her.

The boat and personal watercraft drivers — including Connie Petty and David Gilliland — are just a few of the volunteers who help Debbie Hightower grow this event every year. Starting with her husband, Jerry, and her brother Ed Pickett, a Target executive, the physical therapy assistant pulls in seemingly everyone she meets.
Her father helped serve the elaborate lunch Saturday. As usual, her boss, Pediatrics Plus owner Janice Jones, was on hand with a full staff. Cathy Fletcher, a co-founder of the event, still helps handle registration.
Meg Strand from Nashville and Erica Citak from Asheville were other Target executives present Saturday. Disabled Sports USA, AIG insurance, Pepsi, the Osborne Foundation, Hamby Construction and Signal Centers are other sponsors.

TRC Yacht Sales made its second sponsorship appearance with a bigger force.

“We brought a ski boat and three WaveRunners this year, and six volunteers came with me,” TRC’s Jenny Clark said.

Two of the volunteers were her stepsons visiting for the summer from Illinois.

“When we picked them up, the first thing they asked was, ‘Are we going to do that SPARC thing again?’” she said. “I’ve asked to be more involved. It’s too much fun for these kids out here, and it’s fun doing it.”
Phil Martin can’t resist coming back from his home near Macon, Ga., every year. The developer of much of the adaptive equipment splits his time between Lizella and St. Simons Island now but makes the SPARC day his one adaptive skiing outing every year.

Tim Waters and Billy Beasley continue in the difficult job of deep-water starters, Tom Owen and Mike Reece oversee the kayaks and Doug Lee and his daughters work with the adaptive tubing. Keith Arimura and Maureen Bruno take photographs of the participants.

Robert Fox flew in from his third Army tour of duty in Iraq — he’s also been to Afghanistan — on Friday and was at Possum Creek as a volunteer Saturday. He had come as a boy with his father.
Randal Braker, general manager of the Duck River Utility Commission in Tullahoma, was another volunteer Saturday.
The Volunteer State Rescue Services and an ambulance crew have been on hand the last four or five years, volunteering their time also. The rescue folks haven’t had to make a rescue but have been helpful in keeping other boat traffic in the area respectful of the event.

“People have been really good about it,” Rebecca Thomas said. “One boater even asked if he could donate time to pull skiers,” said Chris Downey, who’s helped the last three years.

Doug Roberts, who was Hightower’s first contact at First Lutheran Church as the camp board head when she was looking for a place to hold the SPARC event, has helped in all but two of the special days. He was on parking duty Saturday. Robbie Tyson heads the camp board at the highly cooperative church now.
Then there’s Jo-Anna Harvey, who shuttles participants and volunteers from the parking area every year — even four years after her grandson, Jared Reeves, died at the age of 14.

“This gives them life, another year to look forward to,” Harvey said. “That’s what it did for my grandson. It kept him five years.”