Ten-year-old Charlotte Bolton of Tillsonburg has always been a good athlete.
“Charlotte loves everything,” said Bridget Fearon, Charlotte’s mother. “Not just sports. When she does something, she does it 100 per cent.”
Now, after competing in the World Dwarf Games hosted by the Dwarf Athletic Association of America (DAAA) in East Lansing, Michigan, August 3-10, Charlotte can be called a world class athlete. Her medal haul at the Michigan State University athletic facilities included seven gold medals, four silver medals and one bronze.
“I don’t think I have them all… I think I only have 11 here,” Charlotte smiled.
“I was very proud of myself and I was also excited because my friends – my new friends from different countries – also got a lot of medals. My friend Nicole from Ireland, she got 19 medals.”
But winning gold – again and again – wasn’t her favourite part of the World Dwarf Games.
“No,” she laughed. “It was having fun and meeting new people. And cheering people on.”
“It was a fun event for everybody, we met a lot of people,” said her father, Scot Bolton. “It was a very rewarding all-round family vacation. And Charlotte’s quite a competitor.”
Opening ceremonies were held on Saturday the 3rd and closing ceremonies the following Saturday night.
Charlotte competed in a 7 to 11-year-old Junior A youth division. Other youth divisions included Futures for 6-and-unders, and 12-15 Junior B. The open division was 16-and-older and masters 35-and-older.
In total there were 395 athletes from around the world, nearly half from the US, representing 17 countries including Australia, Brazil, Finland, Germany, India, Congo, and Sri Lanka.
“It’s growing – there’s more countries and more athletes every event,” said Scot.
The 25-athlete Canadian contingency, made up of athletes ages 8-22, including an estimated 18-or-so from Ontario, had representation from the western provinces and Quebec. They were supported by the Dwarf Athletic Association of Canada.
“The bulk of the participants were the junior age kids and the open class,” said Scot.
“There were about 120 juniors,” Bridget noted.
“I think one of the reasons they have all those divisions is they really wanted to promote it as ‘family friendly’ to get young people participating more in athletics,” said Scot. “There were people there from all over the world. Charlotte made friends with a girl, same age, from Ireland.
Team sports, including relays, were co-ed.
“In normal races, without the boys, probably five or six,” she said.
She won gold medals in shot put, javelin, discus (Frisbee toss), 40m, and 60m, and silver medal in mixed-age relay.
“Second in relay,” she nodded.
“They competed in the older relay junior division,” Scot noted.
“Sometimes Canada moved kids around to try to make up full Canadian teams,” said Bridget. “Their soccer team was half Canadian, half American.”
“And half Great Britain,” Charlotte smiled. “Great Britain, Canada, and US – it was a mixed up team made that day. Great Britain, they were just little girls. But we were really good. Nobody got a goal on us, and we changed our goalie probably every five minutes.”
“They ended up just kind of by accident with a stacked team,” said Scot. “Really good Canadians and some of the better American boys.”
Gold medalist in soccer, she also won gold in mixed volleyball (Canada/US/Ireland) and gold in table tennis. She also won three swimming medals – silver in 25m freestyle, silver in 25m backstroke, and bronze in 25m relay.
“I’m on (swim) team in Delhi,” she said.
Some of the junior athletes competed in every event, but Charlotte opted out of floor hockey, badminton and basketball.
“I didn’t really know how to play (basketball),” she admitted. “I know how to shoot, as long as the net’s low enough so I can get it in, I just don’t know all the rules.”
At home, she’s a notable soccer, track and field and cross-country athlete. Soccer, however, is a clear-cut favourite.
“I’ve been playing soccer since I was three,” said Charlotte, a defensive-minded player on the 2013 Tillsonburg Titans U10 boys rep soccer team in the London District Youth Soccer League.
Both quick and aggressive, she shows no fear on the field. She does not back down against any size or either gender.
“No, because normally I’m just as good as them.”
Her mother, Bridget, who played a lot of competitive soccer in Tillsonburg over the years, still plays in the adult co-ed rec league. Charlotte might not remember much of the Poultry Specialties championships, but she has watched some of her mom’s recent games.
“She was really good at defence, but I’ve never seen her play forward,” said Charlotte.
“I don’t think you even watch, do you?” Bridget laughed.
“No, it’s Madelyn (her sister) who reads books,” Charlotte countered.
It took some time for Charlotte to adjust to playing boys rep soccer. Or more accurately, it took time for her teammates to adapt to her.
“People don’t really pass to me until they realize I’m just as good as them. They think I wouldn’t be any good if I was small.
“When I first played with the boys, they didn’t think I was going to be any good at all. When I started beating them at the running things we were doing, and passing – they’re not very good at that,” she smiled, “then they started to realize that I was good.”
Good in LDYLS and great at the World Dwarf Games.
“I like it better at the Games because I had more confidence against the people who were my own size. I was… maybe a little better than everybody else, especially running.”
In some ways, her condition gives her an advantage at the Games. There are several main types of dwarfism, said Scot, including achondroplasia which is the most common and recognizable.
“It’s fairly common… I don’t know the exact stats but it’s like one in 25,000 to one in 30,000 births.”
“Next is hypochondroplasia,” said Charlotte.
“And then Charlotte has a rare form called cartilage-hair hypoplasia,” said Scot. “We only know a few people who have Charlotte’s condition.”
“There was probably less than 10 at the Games that have the same condition that Charlotte has,” said Bridget. “We met eight of them. Charlotte is proportioned, and achondroplasia tend to be less proportioned. They’ll have a bigger head and trunk…”
“And shorter limbs,” Scot explained. “Achondroplasia tend to be short-limbed. Average-size body, maybe a slightly larger head, and their arms and legs tend to be short. Charlotte is proportioned.”
The condition is a genetic phenomenon – both Scot and Bridget are both ‘carriers.’
“Achondroplasia, most recently, frequently occurs as a mutation – any average-size parent could have an achondroplasia child,” said Scot. “But in Charlotte’s case, cartilage-hair hypoplasia, both Bridget and I both have to be carriers.”
The World Dwarf Games do not command the media attention of Olympic or Special Olympic Games.
“I don’t really think they’ve been advertised at all,” said Charlotte.
The Boltons found out about it through Little People of Ontario, an association they belong to.
“Twenty years ago or something like that, they had Games for another group, Cerebral Palsy, and they invited little people to compete,” said Bridget. “That sparked interest. So the Dwarf Athletic Association of America formed and they had games every four years ever since.”
“At the same time, 20 years ago, they also formed an International Dwarf Athletic Federation,” Scot noted. “So they have had a number of these events in the past 20 years.”
World Dwarf Games
1993 Chicago, USA
2009 Northern Ireland
2013 East Lansing, USA
“The next one in four years is going to be in Australia or Great Britain,” said Charlotte. “I want to go to it again, but it depends where it is.”
She would also like to continue playing soccer at the highest level possible.
“I really like soccer. And I like (downhill) skiing, but skiing – real skiing – is kind of dangerous when they go off the side of a hill, upside down off a cliff into a net.”