Zoe Spanos doesn’t let her physical challenges define her, but manages to thrive instead.
The 15-year-old Lutz teenager, who has cerebral palsy, lives life like many teens.
The rising Steinbrenner High School sophomore is a straight A student and a dedicated member of JROTC and HOSA-Future Health Professionals.
She’s also a fitness buff — into cross training, weightlifting and nutrition.
Lately, she’s tried her hand at golf — a game introduced to her by her grandparents. She’s set her sights on making the Steinbrenner girls golf team this season.
Due to her physical limitations, Zoe employs an unconventional golf stance and swing, which focuses more on generating power from the right side of her body. She takes weekly lessons with local golf instructor Andrew Dawes.
“My follow-through sometimes may look a little different, but I mostly just change everything a little bit so that works for me,” Zoe said.
“I just try to push my mind and body as far as it can and see where that takes me,” Zoe said.
The method seems to work, as Zoe confidently says, “I definitely have more power than a lot of 15-year-old girls, even with my different things.”
Zoe appreciates golf’s psychological challenges.
“No matter the physical part of it, I think it’s definitely more mental than anything,” she said.
The young woman has a lifetime of experience of overcoming difficulties.
At only 10 days old, Zoe developed encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. The brain swelling resulted in seizures and two strokes, and she was technically diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“There was a point (doctors) didn’t know if she was going to survive,” recalled her mother, Michelle Spanos. “I was always asking the specialists, ‘What can they expect?’ and they said they really don’t know…”
The cerebral palsy caused a loss of muscle control that affects the left side of Zoe’s body, mostly in her foot.
With her condition, Zoe wears a specially molded prosthetic AFO (ankle-foot orthosis) brace provided by Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa. It’s a necessity for her left foot and ankle when doing any type of physical activity.
“When I walk, my brain doesn’t tell my foot to lift up,” Zoe explained, “so this brace basically forces my foot to do something.”
She added of the brace, “It limits mobility a little bit, but I just walk around and it’ll tilt my foot in or out a different way or move it back a little bit; it definitely helps if you walk and run.”
The brace resembles something someone with a broken leg or fractured ankle might wear.
Zoe’s mother credits Shriners Hospitals for helping her daughter over the past decade, since 2008 to be exact.
For many years, Zoe would visit the hospital as many as three times a week, receiving physical, occupational and speech therapies, and providing custom braces as she’s grown up. Zoe now visits roughly every six months for checkups.
Zoe’s efforts have inspired her mom.
“She’s always just been really driven. She’s always been tough. Nothing ever stopped her. Ever. She’s really never complained,” her mom said.
Shriners has played a big role, too, she said.
“They’ve provided every brace she’s needed, every evaluation. They’ve actually really gone over and above with the brace,” Michelle said.
While Zoe’s family appreciates what Shriners has done for Zoe, the organization thinks highly of Zoe, too.
She has been selected as one of 22 patient ambassadors throughout the country to represent the hospital network at the 2019 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, an official PGA Tour event in Las Vegas this October.
During the Oct. 3 to Oct. 6 tournament at TPC Summerlin, Zoe will serve as a standard bearer throughout the weekend, carrying the scores of professional golfers as they compete in the tournament. It provides a rare inside-the-ropes opportunity at a PGA Tour event, as well as the chance to share how Shriners Hospitals have helped transform her life.
As part of her participation in the tournament, Zoe’s story and photo will appear in the tournament program, and her information will be shared with the Golf Channel, which will televise the tournament nationally, to be used during the broadcast.
The teen will also partake in a pro-am event the day before the PGA tournament officially begins, getting to spend the day with a PGA Tour pro, who hasn’t been announced yet.
Always looking to improve her game, Zoe said she wouldn’t mind picking up a tip or two from her pro golfing partner.
But, more importantly, she said, “I’m just excited to show what Shriners has done for, not really just me, but everyone in the country and people that have it way worse than me.”
For more information, visit ShrinersHospitalsOpen.com.
Published July 31, 2019