Little People, Big Hearts, Indomitable Will

I dare you to read this story on RunnersWorld.com and not feel something. It’s the story of John and Juli, two runners who defied their “condition” in order to run in the Boston Marathon in 2013. Yes, that marathon, the one interrupted by an act of terrorism.

John and Juli were born with dwarfism, and they were always told about the things they could not do. Very few people in their lives told them about the things they could do, and I, for one, am glad that they listened to the encouragement and blew off the haters.

Juli was in a nursing program when this happened:

“Growing up, she says, she never encountered discrimination. Yes, she got stared at plenty of times, but no one ever kept her from doing something she wanted to try. That changed when she started nursing school in 2009. Six weeks into her first semester, Juli was asked to meet with school officials. They told her they were concerned that she was too small to care for infants. And that the stool she carried with her and used to stand on when attending patients was unsanitary. And that with her short legs, she would be too slow to respond to emergencies. The charges caught Juli by surprise. She had earned better than average grades, she hadn’t even come close to dropping a baby, and she had never been in a clinical setting where she could have been late getting to a patient. Besides, she thought, I plan to run Boston someday. I can’t be slow.”

How did she deal with it? The only way she knew how to:

“The meeting made her realize she was not welcome in the nursing program. In fact, she was threatened with failure if she continued in it. She left the school that May, eventually entering South University in Savannah, Georgia, seeking an even more challenging degree as a physician assistant. (She graduated last spring with a 3.69 GPA.) With Blake occupied by his med school studies, Juli had time to run and train. And shortly after what she calls “the fiasco at nursing school,” Juli ran the Disney Marathon in 4:56:58. “If you ever want to see me do something,” she said afterward, “tell me that I can’t.””

The phrase “haters are going to hate” came to mind reading that. And then there was what John went through early in his running life:

“It all seemed so much fun, so perfect. He started thinking the unthinkable. I’m an athlete. But then came the night when he Googled “midget runner” and “dwarf runner.” It had become his habit. Maybe, John figured, he’d learn about another running little person; he’d never met one or seen one at a race. Too often the search just came back with links to hideous videos of little people racing camels or being chased by drunken fraternity brothers. This time he came across a blog post about him. And when he saw it, he wanted to fire his fist through his laptop.

Headlined “Swim, Bike, Run, Midgets,” the blog was written by a competitor in the same triathlon John had done in New York City in the summer of 2011. The blogger described his race, and then inserted a photo of John with the caption: “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.”

Over the years John had become almost desensitized to the stares that followed him and Sue and Owen when they went into a restaurant or a movie theater. He had come to expect–if not understand–people’s inclination to pull out a cell phone and sneak a photo. If he heard a young child call out to a parent to “look at the little man,” he would walk over and talk to the child, and explain who he was.”

Just like Juli, John lashed back by telling the blogger how offensive the blog post was and by keeping at it and running.

But the whole story is so much more than just these two anecdotes, and you need to read it all to get a really good picture of what it means to be human, fearless, and indomitable. So go on and read it. What are you waiting for?

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen