5 Lessons I've Learned as an Athlete With Dwarfism
Lesson One – Patience Is Vital
I am known by teammates, coaches, teachers, friends, and even by my family for my impatience. Playing sports as a little person, I have discovered patience is way more necessary than one would think. I have had to get my current hockey skates baked and re-fitted about six different times since I got them, which was a year ago by the way, and they still don’t fit because of how my feet and shins are shaped.
It also takes a great amount of patience to find athletic passions that are both safe and enjoyable. I started with soccer and figure skating, hated both, and then I discovered hockey and softball, which are two sports I was and still am incredibly passionate about. I promise, a sport that you will grow to love is waiting out there, but you will only find it if you maintain a patient and optimistic attitude.
Lesson Two – No Room for Fear
As someone who is smaller, a lot of people expect me to be weak and unintelligent when I take the field or ice. This expectation is often expressed through staring, something many little people are all too familiar with. The stares and judgments are going to happen, and the stares and judgments are going to hurt. There’s really no way to get around it, and that is why we should not live life in fear, self-doubt, and cowardice.
With every experience I have of underestimation and oppression as an athlete with dwarfism, my willpower surges. Anytime I think of an instance in which I was underestimated or overlooked, I become unafraid of intimidating things like hard shots in hockey and oddly hit softballs. I believe if I cower from those types of things, people will continue to think that my stature makes me weaker.
Lesson Three – Importance of Teammates and Coaches
As sappy as it sounds, your sports teams can really act as your family. Your teammates are your sisters/brothers. They are often the ones who will stand up for you in any bullying situation; they know who you are and (usually) it really bothers them to see you being made fun of by an outer force. High school sports can magnify this family dynamic; I sit by my softball teammates every day at lunch and study with them during free times. Teammates can be your biggest cheerleaders. My teammates have sometimes noticed people staring and judging before I have, and they immediately take action in an attempt to stop it.
Additionally, coaches are the team’s parents. They often know when you aren’t working hard and know when you are feeling down. I have found that my best coaches were the ones that held me to the same standards as my teammates, not seeing dwarfism as an excuse to give up. For the moments in which the stares and comments from opposing forces hit me hard, my teammates were the ones to step in and make the situation better.
Lesson Four – Twice the Energy, Twice the Effort
Most little people are about half the size of an average height person. For every step a little person takes, an average height person takes double the amount. However, we are still giving the same amount of energy into our steps while we are not covering the same amount of distance an average height person is covering. Hopefully this all makes sense, but if not, I’ll put it into perspective. When I am in a race against an opposing player to get a distant puck in hockey, two of my strides equal one for my opponent. Therefore I have to put in more energy in order to win the race to that puck. This often causes me to get tired more quickly than others, but I have learned I always have to keep pushing with a motivation to prove others wrong in defying the expectations they have because of my stature.
Lesson Five – Find and Utilize Advantage
Tall height is often seen as superior to short height. In my eyes this is not true, as I have been able to find many ways I can uniquely use to my advantage in the sports I play. For example, I am able to duck under the glove of an opposing player in softball, causing me to reach the base before she is able to tag me out. I also have an unusual strike zone because of how short my legs are, which confuses the pitcher, catcher, and even the umpire. Due to this I have probably racked up about two hundred walks in my softball career.
On the other hand, in hockey, I have found I have an advantage in battles for the puck. When opposing players and teammates are battling it out on the boards to get the puck, I literally skate under them, take the puck, and if all goes well I come out with it on the other side of the scuffle.
Perhaps the biggest advantage I have found within myself as an athlete is my mentality. I see mental performance as the stimulator of physical performance, so sports aren’t necessarily all about how much muscle and size someone has. The fire and grit within me grows whenever I am overlooked or judged because of my dwarfism. All of these experiences have contributed to the construction of a steel wall within my mind that prompts me to stay tough and confident no matter how many odds are against me.
Don’t get me wrong, these advantages did not come overnight; I have gone through a lot of trial and error with what works and what doesn’t work. Every little person will find different advantages based on their own ability, mentality, and desire. However, we find commonality in utilizing these advantages to prove to ourselves and other athletes, coaches, and spectators that our size does not hold us back.
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Thinkstock image by Ronnie Chua.