DCSIMG

Why normal life is a tall order for the teenagers who just won't stop growing

What's it like being one of Britain's tallest teenagers? At 7ft 3ins, Chris Lister knows, and life can be a struggle.

PAUL Sturgess is 7ft 7ins tall, an inch and three-quarters shorter than the world's tallest man. At 19, with his size 21 feet and 23 stone frame, he is turning his enormous stature to his advantage, having won a bursary to play college basketball while studying in Florida.

In his chosen sport, Paul's height is nothing but positive. His special physical qualities mean he is already being noticed by professional basketball scouts, and if he continues to pass exams and play well for his college team, he could be lucky enough to earn millions with a big-name team in the years ahead.

He has also found that, in the US, his height is also a great ice-breaker socially. Paul would rather like to grow another inch, and become the tallest in the world.

Back in Britain on holiday, the advantages of being so tall are not quite so obvious. Out and about in his home town of Loughborough, he is stared at whenever he goes out. "People think I'm a freak, and expect me to be aggressive," says Paul. However, his height has been no impediment to finding romance, and Paul's 5ft 8ins girlfriend Kerry eagerly awaits his visits back to the UK.

Tara Savage is 13 and already 6ft 1ins tall. Her mother Sue is terrified that Tara will grow so tall that others will regard her as having a disability. There are drugs which would slow down or stop her growth, but they could also prevent her from ever having children.

She is always eight inches to a foot taller than her school friends, and with size 10-11 feet, shoe-buying is an ordeal. Lately, a shop specialising in women's shoes made for transvestites has been virtually the only source of decent footwear.

While Tara doesn't feel "weirdly tall", she feels life would be difficult were she to grow much more. That's why she and her mum recently found medical experts to run a battery of tests, including x-rays, to help predict how much taller she would grow. She has now been told with a fair amount of confidence that she probably will not grow more than another inch. Tara says she can live comfortably with that.

When Chris Lister was born 19 years ago, his mother, Anita, had had a normal pregnancy, but her bump was rather large. When Christopher was born, he was 23 inches long, and doctors knew as soon as they saw the size of his feet that he would be unusually tall.

As a fast-growing toddler he was the size of many four or five-year-olds, and people often assumed he was older than he was.

Now a gentle young man who's looking for a career to boost his self-confidence, growing emotionally into his current 7ft 3ins frame has been difficult for Chris. The physical pain attached to growing so tall has also been enormous.

"I have cramps all the time in my legs, and have to sit down for a rest after walking only a short distance," he says. Paediatricians monitored Chris throughout his childhood, and their investigations revealed no concrete reason for his unusual height.

By the age of 13 he was overtaking his 6ft 2ins dad Dave. At the age of 16 he was around 6ft 9ins and still stretching fast. "Stretch" is, in fact, his nickname. Along the way, Chris's leg bones were growing unevenly, making his legs turn inwards, causing terrible pain. Operations were carried out to remove the growth plates, and his legs did eventually stop growing.

However, his spine has continued to elongate, and he suffers constant back pain. Long spells of school were missed due to treatment, but Chris hoped to train as a mechanic. His physical problems have now ruled-out that ambition. He has taken IT courses but hasn't found employment yet.

Mostly he stays at home in Armley, Leeds, where Anita and Dave have had to spend 22,000 on adapting the house to his height. Doorways open up to the ceiling, lights are all recessed, the shower head is incorporated into the ceiling, and Chris has a handmade 7ft 6ins bed.

"It's easier to stay in than go out most of the time," he says. "I don't go out more than once in a blue moon."

Anita joins in: "Often he would have growth spurts of two or three inches in a short time, and was in great pain. Walking was difficult, but then we'd go out and people would just gawp. They stared and said the most terrible things, like Chris was a freak."

Chris says the comments do sometimes get to him, but mostly he tries to laugh off any abuse. Dave doesn't find it so easy. "I have to walk through the market separately to Chris, because I get so angry at the things people shout. You wouldn't believe what he has to put up with.

"They wouldn't dream of saying that stuff if a person was different because they were disabled. Why do they think it's acceptable to abuse someone because he happens to be tall?"

When a TV production company asked him if he would take part in a documentary about Britain's tallest teenagers, Chris felt it would be a good opportunity to show the reality of his life. He also hopes the experience might present some new opportunities for him.

Anita encouraged Chris, as she felt it would help him to "break out of the bubble", as she puts it. Dave disagreed, and thought Chris might attract more idiotic comments as a result of the exposure. "But he's 19, and I couldn't stop him. It's up to him."

Dave and Anita are clearly very protective parents, each trying to support Chris in their own, but different, way.

A hair and clothes makeover with the help of a stylist led to a photo shoot. What Chris didn't know until the 11th hour was that programme producers had fixed up an audition for him with a modelling agency in London which specialises in "character" models with unusual looks or size.

Test photos were done, and Chris was signed up on the spot. He is now back home and waiting for his first assignment. The experience gave him new confidence, he says, but he is struggling to keep that buoyancy alive.

"No other good has come of it, so I might as well try and cash-in on being tall. I'm hoping the TV programme will also show people to see the person, not the height."

Anita no longer measures Chris's height, although he may continue to grow until he is 21. "No matter how tall he gets, he'll always just be my baby."

Britain's Tallest Teens will be shown on ITV1 at 9pm on Thursday.

 
 
 

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