Age is noth­ing but a num­ber for sports group’s new­est mem­bers

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY MARK PACE STAFF WRITER

Deb­bie Hightower was thrilled when she heard two new peo­ple were join­ing the SPARC — Sports, Arts and Re­cre­ation of Chat­tanooga — team she co-founded. The group, whose mem­bers range in age from about 7 years old up to the 60s, has helped hun­dreds of dis­abled peo­ple take part in com­pet­i­tive and recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties in an in­te­grated set­ting since 1991, and Hightower was eager for its new­est mem­bers to get started.

What she didn’t ex­pect was that those two mem­bers would be well into their golden years.

Bryan Knight is 91; Wendy Wil­liams turns 86 next week.

“They’re just gung-ho,” Hightower said. “I’m glad they’re mo­ti­vated to get out and ex­er­cise.”

Knight joined SPARC to ride his re­cum­bent bike de­spite hav­ing ver­tigo, and Wil­liams joined to help her be com­pet­i­tive in the 40th an­niver­sary of the Ten­nessee State Parks Run­ning Tour de­spite a bad hip and hear­ing loss.

And while age may have slowed them, they don’t want stop do­ing what they en­joy.

“I do it [run­ning] just nat­u­rally. I like the com­pe­ti­tion. I like to push my­self as hard as I can go,” Wil­liams said. “… It’s just to stay healthy, I guess, but it’s some­thing I can do, or try to do.”

Wil­liams be­gan a more ac­tive life­style decades ago when her daugh­ter started swim­ming com­pet­i­tively. The two lived in Oak Ridge, where Wil­liams worked as a physi­cist af­ter a ca­reer as a pro­fes­sor in Lon­don, New Or­leans and at the Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee.

She swam for six years be­fore com­pet­ing in a 10-kilo­me­ter run in 1978.

“I dis­cov­ered it was much nicer than swim­ming in the pool with my face in the wa­ter,” Wil­liams said. “My daugh­ter is a nat­u­ral swim­mer. I’m not.”

She ran ac­tively un­til about three years ago. Her hip had got­ten to the point she couldn’t run on her own. She tried a rac­ing wheel­chair but was too slow to do events, she said. She thought her com­pet­i­tive days might be be­hind her.

But, SPARC vol­un­teers knew they could help her re­main ac­tive, so they in­tro­duced her to a hand cy­cle. The three­wheeled re­cum­bent bike al­lowed her to use her arms to spin the bike wheels and im­prove her time. She pur­chased one of her own and plans to com­pete in the Ten­nessee State Park Run­ning Tour start­ing next month. Wil­liams will be the old­est com­peti­tor and hopes to com­plete five races, which would make her el­i­gi­ble for awards.

For Knight, join­ing SPARC was a way for him to con­tinue rid­ing his bike while in­ter­act­ing with other hand­i­capped in­di­vid­u­als.

“I read a no­tice on one of the re­cum­bent tri­cy­cle fo­rums about it,” he said. “That such an or­ga­ni­za­tion was in ex­is­tence, held meet­ings every fort­night and helped with the hand­i­capped. Be­ing half hand­i­capped my­self, it seemed like a log­i­cal thing to do.”

The former Bri­tish Royal Air Force sergeant came to the United States in 1954 to work on for­merly clas­si­fied projects in the U.S. He helped de­sign parts of the 747 plane, B-70 bomber and the re­design of the B-52, he said.

“I had an in­ter­est­ing ca­reer,” he said. “It wasn’t all me, but we had a good hand in it.”

Af­ter re­tire­ment, Knight and his wife bought a house boat and be­gan trav­el­ing the Ten­nessee River and other in­land wa­ter­sheds. The boat­ing life came to an abrupt end, how­ever, when he had a ma­jor ver­tigo at­tack at­trib­uted to the loss of hear­ing he suf­fered in one ear dur­ing World War II. The cou­ple bought an RV but even­tu­ally de­cided they wanted to set­tle in one area. They landed on Walden’s Ridge above Spring City be­cause of the beauty of the area.

Knight en­joyed cy­cling for ex­er­cise. He didn’t want to give that up and tran­si­tioned to a re­cum­bent bike, which he rides every other day.

The vet­eran has found SPARC to be as much about com­mu­nity as it is his health. The group helps him con­tinue his ac­tive life­style in a friendly, laid-back set­ting.

“For me, it’s a way to get ex­er­cise and keep­ing my­self tol­er­a­bly healthy,” he said. “… I find even though I can’t walk 50 yards, I can cy­cle rel­a­tively long dis­tances.”

Con­tact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@ times­freep­ or 423-757-6659. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @the­mark­pace and on Face­book at Chatta noogaOut­doorsTFP.


Wendy Wil­liams and Bryan Knight are some of the most re­cent mem­bers of Sports, Arts and Re­cre­ation of Chat­tanooga, also known as SPARC.

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