Growing up in an eastern Victorian farming district, Luke Missen rarely saw other short-statured people.
Luke Missen is set to compete in the World Dwarf Games in July
The event will see hundreds of short-statured athletes take part in a wide range of sports
A community leader says it is one of the only times short-statured people can feel completely at ease, knowing their environment is adapted for them
But his passion for sport has led him to be one of the best badminton, soccer and basketball players in the world.
Raised in Denison, the athlete is heading to Germany at the end of July to represent Australia in the World Dwarf Games for the second time.
The event, like the Olympics, is held every four years and is the largest international sporting event held exclusively for athletes with dwarfism.
Missen said the games had a supportive culture and provided the opportunity to meet other athletes.
“There’s an athlete’s village that everyone stays in,” he said.
“There’s different events that happen at night, like social events that you’re all going to … [such as the] opening ceremony [and] closing ceremony.
“[It helps] build some awareness, because you’re competing against other people with short stature, and that’s a medical condition.”
The International Dwarf Athletic Federation was formed after the first World Dwarf Games in 1993 in the United States, which hosted athletes with dwarfism from 10 different countries.
This year’s games start on July 28 and continue across eight days, bringing together about 500 athletes from around the world at the German Sport University in Cologne.
Events include archery and crossbow, badminton, basketball, boccia, powerlifting, soccer, swimming, track and field, table tennis and volleyball, with some sports modified to accommodate impairments.
For Missen, 30, training has proven difficult due to living in a region with limited sporting clubs and diversity.
“When I was growing up, I never really knew other short-statured people, as much as some might have known in the cities and other, more populated areas,” he said.
“I went to a small primary school, I was always competing, and playing sport with my brother and my family and schoolmates.”
Missen now lives in Bairnsdale, works full-time at a water treatment plant, and travels to Sale and Melbourne for badminton training.
“To keep up the training regime and being able to perform, it’s a little bit difficult from that perspective,” he said.
“Prioritising what [sport] you want to focus on more, whilst committing to the team events as well, which we try and do that through training camps … it is a challenge.”
Missen said athletes living regionally and working full-time should receive more support.
“There needs to be more awareness around that and programs put in place so people can step away from their work and go and train and not have to manage their own time in how they’re going to do that,” he said.
“You’re getting into late hours at night, or very early hours of the morning, which aren’t too good for fatigue purposes and all that sort of stuff so there definitely needs to be more consideration and awareness around that.”
Kobie Donovan has taken part in her fair share of sports for short-statured people.
She has been the Australian captain in athletics, soccer and badminton and is now a leader within the network of Short Statured People of Australia (SSPA).
Feeling of community
Donovan said being in a room of other short-statured people was a feeling like no other.
“The shocking part is 500 short-statured people and even for a short person, that’s a lot to take in, to be in a room full of people at your own size and height,” she said.
“You feel very included because everything is adapted, whereas every day, we have to think about things such as reaching a counter check-in.
“You kind of have an escape for a week where you don’t feel like you’re the odd one out, and everyone is on the same level.”
But like many not-for-profits, SSPA relies on donations and grants.
Many of its members, like other elite athletes living with disabilities, have to balance full-time work with training and need to fundraise to take part in national and international competitions.
“It takes a lot of effort to get to training camps three or four times a year,” Donovan said.
“Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of government funding just purely based off the technicality of becoming a national sporting organisation.
“But we’re lucky to have a lot of generosity from the community to help us with sponsorship, fundraising or just simply donating.”