As far as I know, I am the only dwarf who has completed a triathlon. Maybe I’m not, but at least I have never been able to find another like-minded little person (LP). In the recent months I have had two members of the LP community contact me stating that they are training to complete their first triathlons later this summer. This past July I returned to NYC to race in the NYC Triathlon. As a new member of Achilles International, I race with other physically challenged athletes on the same course with able-bodied age group athletes and pros as well. The race itself was a challenge as most triathlons are. It includes a 0.9-mile swim in the Hudson River, a 26-mile cycle up and down the West Side Highway and then a 6-mile run up 72nd Street into and around Central Park. I had a terrific day on the course as the fan support in NYC is amazing.
On occasion, I search the Internet in order to try and find other short-statured people interested in multi-sports. I do so by entering phrases like “dwarf triathlete,” “dwarf cyclist” into search engines. The results I usually find are related to my own blog or online stories about me.
There is a word in the LP community that most members feel is an inappropriate term for an LP, and that is midget. For most of us, that word brings up bad memories of school yard bullies or just insensitive and ignorant members of the public who feel it’s OK to point and laugh at an LP as we simply go about our daily lives. Believe me when I say, that experience happens more than most people who know us, would think. My wife and son are also LPs and sometimes when we’re out grocery shopping, we hear a child say, “Mommy, look at that little family.” What’s wrong with that? Really, there is nothing wrong with a child asking questions. We often respond by going up to the child and their parents to simply say, “We were born this way, and isn’t it great that people are different?” I would have to say that 99 percent of the time, that tact is met with a positive response by both parent and child.
Well for some reason, two days after completing the 2012 NYC Triathlon, I chose to type in a couple of different words into the search engine. I typed in “midget triathlete” and what did I find, but a blog written by an ultra-distance runner. The title of this particular blog post was, “Swim, bike, run, Midgets.” This was his race report from the 2011 NYC Triathlon, which took place last August. Now the reason I chose to include the word midget in my search is that there are a number of people in the LP community who freely call themselves midget. I believe it is their attempt to try and take back the word, similar to the way some members of the African-American community have attempted to take back a particular word from their own history that is rooted in a terrible and dark time in human history. From my own experience, the hang-up society seems to have in the first place, is with labels. Why are we so obsessed with placing labels on people, based mostly on physical appearance or mental capacity?
Anyway, back to this particular blog post. As I quickly scanned the post, I came upon a picture of me cycling back down towards the transition area (where I switch from cycling to running). The following text went along with the picture:
“My day was brightened considerably by what you see in the picture below. Anybody that knows me, knows I love midgets. Who doesn’t love them? But you simply can’t beat a midget triathlete on a little midget bike. This was priceless!!! I want one of my own someday.”
The word “midget” is not what really concerned me. On at least two other occasions, I have seen other bloggers post the word “midget” when they were first describing their experience of first seeing me racing. In both cases, I contacted them directly to let them know that the word midget is really not one I am comfortable using and that dwarf, little person (LP), or short-statured are more acceptable terms. I did not ask them to change the term, but in both cases, they apologized and changed their post. In my mind, the apology was not needed. When a person does not know the proper term, they use what they know. All LPs hope is that by simply and politely pointing out more appropriate terminology, society might soon learn what is more acceptable.
The phrase in his post that struck a deep and lasting mark was where he said, “I want one of my own someday.” It is hard to believe that a person would make a comment that totally objectifies someone making them out to be something they want to own or have like a toy or pet. It’s not the first time that phrase has been used and we can thank both Jimmy Kimmel and Chelsea Handler for making similar statements in recent years. What would be the effect if he had made the same comments about a woman or an African-American? Would people still think that it was as funny?
I know there are members of society who feel we have gone too far past the concept of political correctness. You yourself may feel that way, but when a word you recall from your own childhood was only ever used to ridicule, demean, put-down, and tease, it leaves some lasting scars. I am glad the scars have healed for me and I can usually deal with these incidents in a mature way. When out running or cycling the streets north of Boston, I would have to say that at least once a week I hear comments made out of a car or school bus window, that now simply drive me to work harder to show people that there is no particular triathlon “body-type.” But, as parents of a 9-year-old son, who himself is just learning how to deal with these words, we still shake our heads and say, “Why does this still have to happen?”
I further read the blog post and found comments at the end from the writer’s spouse and friends, all of whom thought the blog was hilarious. So he, got what he wanted, a laugh and a chuckle. His wife even added a comment that got by me at first, but then I realized she was referring to what he wanted when she typed, “I’ll have to do some research on your ‘I want’… Christmas is right around the corner and that just might make an awesome stocking stuffer!!”
I posted information about this blog entry on my Facebook page and was amazed at the response from my friends and word quickly spread. People started posting on his blog page and his response was to simply thank me for helping increase the traffic on his page. He actually accused me of inciting hatred. I can’t control what my friends say, and many did say things that were not very nice. After reminding me and another friend he chose to email about his right to free speech, He removed all of the comments made by people who were offended and upset by his words. After more comments were made, he then changed to settings on his blog, so no further comments could be made. I do not want to include the name of his blog, only for the reason, that he repeatedly thanked people for their negative comments merely because it increased the traffic on his blog, then he promptly deleted the remarks. I really don’t want to draw people to his blog. Mind you, I kept a copy of the entire post along with most of the comments made against what he had to say.
After realizing that he had no desire to apologize or retract his blog post, members of the “Little People of America” went out and designed a petition through Change.org. The blogger had identified a terrific charity called “A Running Start” that he had sponsored in the hopes of obtaining an entry in the NYC Triathlon. The race is so popular that there is a lottery for entries and athletes who do not make the lottery can race if they go through an approved charity. He raised the required amount of money and was able to race. The LPA felt that along with contacting “A Running Start” and the person who is responsible for the NYC Triathlon, John Korff, there might be some pressure applied to him to remove the blog entry and apologize for his actions. Once the charity started to receive individual emails and the ones through Change.org, a representative contacted him, and he promptly removed the entire blog entry. I was so impressed with how quickly both “A Running Start” and the NYC Triathlon wanted to distance themselves from the actions of the blogger.
I think what people will hopefully learn from this experience is that whatever are your intentions, even if all you are trying to do is get a laugh, words are powerful. What you say in person is one thing, but the written word is there for all to see and even if the post is deleted, through the “magic” of the Internet, nothing is truly ever gone. Realize that though you think something is worthy of a laugh, just because you might think it looks funny, take a moment to check and truly tell, is that person there for the sole purpose of amusement or are they there, because of months and months of training, as I was, like all the other athletes out there that rainy morning last August.