Little people just like everyone else

Celebrating Dwarfism Awareness Month at Barriere Elementary School

Riley Windeler

Riley Windeler

By Mrs. Lynn McGravey

Grade 1/2 Teacher, Barriere Elementary School

During the Friday, Oct. 18, lunch break at Barriere Elementary, as I entered the office an excited student informed me, “Mrs. McGravey, there’s a little person here.” “I know,” I replied, “I invited him here to speak to the grade 6 and 7’s.” “Awww I wish he was coming to our class,” she said with disappointment, “Does he have the same type of dwarfism as Reine?”

Riley Windeler, a 23 year-old  social work student studying at TRU caused a bit of a stir upon entering our front door. As a man with hypocondroplasia (a form of short-limbed dwarfism with the least amount of  medical complications) he is used to attracting attention. Riley grew up in the small community of Horsefly, B.C., near Williams Lake, and as far as he knows is the only little person (LP) resident the town has ever had.

Active in sports his whole life, Riley even played hockey (a collision sport not generally recommended for LPs). After several successful seasons he was awarded Most Inspirational Player by his team. This summer he travelled to Lansing Michigan to the World Dwarf Games as captain of Canada’s volleyball team.

After spending a short period of time with him you understand he practices what he preaches about the three Ds [direction, determination, discipline]. Riley spoke passionately to an attentive audience about his life experiences growing up as a little person. He encouraged each student to have drive, determination and dedication to achieve success in life. Does that mean that his life has been free of obstacles, absolutely not. Most of his obstacles can be overcome with a stool, pedal extensions or a polite request for assistance. Other obstacles such as not being hired at the mill because of his stature, or being called the “m” word (midget is considered to be a very offensive word in the LP community) continue to take more awareness and education. This is why Riley is an advocate. He has been featured more than once on local television, and even had a booth set up for Dwarfism Awareness at a recent Kamloops Blazers game.

Students were very receptive to Riley’s message, asking thoughtful and intelligent questions of him (and myself after he left). Encouraged by his story, one student bravely took the opportunity to address the group about the teasing she receives as a result of her own small stature (the moment had me, as one of her former teachers, with tears in my eyes, so proud I was of her for taking a stand). After all, we are all just people, the same on the inside regardless of how different we may look on the outside. Riley demonstrated this eloquently with the use of three apples of different colours subsequently peeled of their skins.

Following Riley’s talk, students presented him a cheque for $150 for Little People of BC (LPBC).  This was raised during our Loonies for Little People fund raiser. The goal of $1.00 for each inch of my daughter Reine’s expected adult height of 49 inches was more than tripled. Way to go BES!

LPBC is a nonprofit organization, that both Riley and our family belong to, that provides support to LPs and their families. If you would like more information about the group you can check us out on line at www.littlepeopleofbc.org If you would like to have more information about dwarfism in general you can access www.understandingdwarfism.com or www.lpaonline.org

As a proud POLP (parent of a little person) I am encouraged by the acceptance I see at our school. Like Riley, I have tried to show people that my daughter Reine is just like everyone else in a slightly smaller package and with a unique way of doing some things. The most common question we get about her is how tall will she be. Because of this curiosity I think it was interesting for the kids to meet an adult who is an LP. I hope that Reine will be as effective and passionate an advocate for the LP community as Riley is when she is a young adult.