Nathan Sparks has always loved the game and through para hockey, has always
been able to play. Even so, the 15-year-old has felt “singled out” at
times, forced to play the game differently because he was born with
arthrogryposis (causing issues with his joints and muscle weakness).
But in those moments, Sparks can turn to his role model (and idol),
National Para Hockey Team defenceman Tyrone Henry.
“He kind of opened my eyes to the ability that I have and who I am, to play
sports and be a person instead of just hiding away because I'm not like
everyone else,” Sparks says.
Henry has been volunteering with Sledge Hockey of Eastern Ontario (SHEO)
for about a decade and currently sits on the board of directors as the
intermediate division program coordinator. But it’s his on-ice involvement
that has had the most profound impact with the players in the organization.
“He’s had such an impact on me as a person in and out of [para] hockey,”
Sparks says. “If I never met him, I wouldn’t be [playing para hockey still]
and my ability to skate and socialize wouldn’t have evolved without him.”
Sparks’ evolution in the game is of particular pride to Henry. The pair met
when the Ottawa native first joined SHEO, though Henry’s influence at that
point was mostly just encouraging four-year-old Sparks to stay focused and
on the ice. Since then, though, Henry has been dropping tips and tricks for
the up-and-coming forward, who in turn takes every piece of advice he can.
“Seeing his progression, to where he is now, the confidence he has in
himself and how that’s impacted his life and how he wants to reach the next
level all the time, it’s heartwarming to see,” Henry says. “That’s the
impact we want to have as national [team] players.
“I want to see more kids in Ottawa take up that mantle down the road
because it was passed to me and I want to pass it to the next generation,”
Henry isn’t just passing the baton to the next generation though, he is
building a path for others from eastern Ontario to follow, as Sparks says
Henry is a role model for all the young players in the club.
“It’s really important to have a role model that you can look up to and
learn from, especially at a younger age when you’re starting a sport you’re
not even sure you’ll actually be able to play,” Spark explains. “They can
help you learn, socialize and understand the sport and understand yourself
and what you can actually do.”
What Sparks can do is already quite a bit. He was named to Team Ontario
this season, though training and competition has been limited due to
COVID-19-related restrictions. He hasn’t even been able to get a jersey
yet. Though it is a different jersey he hopes to see Henry in very soon.
“I’m really happy for him and honestly it’s also me envisioning myself in
the same position when I’m older,” Spark says. “Hopefully I can make it to
“If he can do it, I’m going to try my best to make it there as well.”
And that is exactly what Henry hopes his presence with SHEO is inspiring.
“It's why we do it. At the end of the day, we like to push kids to find
their dreams and achieve their dreams.”