Name: Lorie Sparks
Despite facing adversity, Lorie Sparks is inspired by Winter to do amazing things — like finishing college and competing in wheelchair ballroom dance competitions!
Can you talk a little bit about yourself?
My name is Lorie Sparks. I am from Kansas City. I was born with cerebral palsy, profoundly hearing impaired, and with learning disabilities.
Despite all those challenges, I was determined to finish college. It took a lot of work, taking some courses several times and getting a lot of help from some great people, but I succeeded in getting my bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2010.
I’ve also always loved to dance, and didn’t let being in a wheelchair keep me from taking dance classes. In the last couple of years, I have been performing in wheelchair ballroom dance.
Do you remember when you first heard about Dolphin Tale and Winter? What excited you about those stories? How has Winter inspired you over the years?
I am a big fan of the movie Dolphin Tale and can relate to Winter’s determination and spirit. Seeing Winter wearing the prosthetic tail and learning to swim made me happy and proud, knowing she can do anything she wants.
When I saw the television and newspaper advertisements, I was very excited to learn more about Winter. It touched my heart to see this boy Sawyer who wants to help Winter to swim like other dolphins. Sawyer saw that Winter kept on trying and never gave up. It was really cool when his cousin was also inspired by Winter’s spirit. Winter reminded me of myself, always trying to do the same things others could do, despite my physical challenges.
I was able to visit Clearwater Marine Aquarium myself last year, after Thanksgiving. It was a very busy time, but the staff and interpreter took the time to explain what the trainer was doing with each animal. I am hoping to come back to Clearwater Marine Aquarium and swim with the dolphins next year!
Can you talk more about wheelchair ballroom dance? That sounds like a lot of fun.
I was a student at Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice (in Kansas), where I took ballet and jazz classes with other young people, most of whom were not physically challenged. The school was great about finding a way to include me, and I loved it. But I eventually became too mature for the classes. I saw on the local news about a wheelchair ballroom group called Groovability. I did some research online about wheelchair ballroom before I decided to join the group. I learned that wheelchair ballroom dance is very big in other countries, with international competitions, but it is not so big in the United States. It encourages people in wheelchairs or with other ability challenges to participate in dance, Zumba and other forms of exercise. Groovability was founded by JoAnne Fluke and has inspired me to participate in ballroom and zumba dancing and my favorite wheelchair ballroom teacher was Brandon White. My favorite dance is the fox trot.
If you had a message for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium community, what would it be?
I want to say thank you to all of the staff and the interpreter for their help to guide me through the crowd the day I visited. I think the work they do at CMA is amazing. It was very interesting to see some animals.
Winter’s story has inspired millions of people all over the world! Read more inspirational stories.