Dwarfism doesn't deter Mass. man from athleticsBy PAUL TENNANT , Associated Press
Jun. 8, 2013 2:16 AM ET
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. (AP) — If you want to get John Young to do something, just tell him he can't do it — because he'll probably make up his mind that he WILL do it and succeed in flying colors.
Young, 47, of Salem, Mass., was within a mile of finishing the Boston Marathon on April 15 when the bombing forced him and thousands of others to abandon the race. Running 26.2 miles is a challenge for anyone, but keep in mind that Young is 4-foot-4. He is challenged by a condition called achondroplasia — dwarfism in laypeople's terms.
Young, originally from Toronto, has spent a lifetime "breaking preconceived ideas," he said. For example, when he decided to become a teacher, many people urged him to work at an elementary school because high-schoolers would "eat you alive," he said.
For the past 10 years, however, Young has taught math at the Pingree School in Hamilton — and has yet to be eaten alive. He also coaches the school's swimming team, by the way.
Young was the guest speaker at the Merrimack Valley Striders' Scholarship Dinner at Sal's Function Hall last month. Runners love people with determination — that's really what the sport is all about — and Young did not disappoint.
Seven years ago, he told his audience, he weighed 195 pounds. He also suffered from severe sleep apnea. A doctor prescribed a CPAP machine, which took care of the latter problem.
Young also began to lose weight and feel better, he said. Watching a video about Dick and Rick Hoyt, the father-son team that competes in the Boston Marathon, triathlons and other athletic contests, proved to the a life-changing experience.
Rick Hoyt, the son, has cerebral palsy. His father pushes him in a wheelchair when they run. When they compete in a triathlon, Rick rides in a seat at the front of a bicycle pedaled by his dad. When it's time for the aquatic portion, Rick sits in a boat that his father pulls while swimming.
"Tears were streaming down my face," Young said. If Team Hoyt can complete a triathlon, he reasoned, so could he. While Young has always been an avid swimmer, he had never been a runner.
Some folks, he noted, recommend that people of short stature not run because of the strain on joints and bones.
"You are absolutely insane," his wife, Sue, told him when he announced he was going to take up running. On the biking front, he started pedaling to the station in Salem, putting his bicycle on the train, then riding his bike from the Hamilton depot to Pingree.
In 2006, he said, he biked all 10 miles from the school to his home in Salem. He has now completed more than 20 triathlons and doesn't show any sign of quitting. Earlier this month, he was scheduled to compete in the Quassy Olympic Triathlon in Connecticut: a .9-mile swim, a 26-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run.
Young qualified for Boston by running the Myles Standish Marathon in Plymouth. While running is a most competitive sport, he noted that the runner's main competitor is actually the runner himself or herself. Several Merrimack Valley Striders nodded in agreement.
"You're testing yourself," he said. "You didn't beat me; you just finished before me."
While Young commanded the respect and admiration of everybody in the room — he got a standing ovation when he finished speaking — he has encountered at least his share of the ridicule that some people bestow on those with disabilities.
He said he has heard comments such as, "Look at the midget on the bike!" he said. This inspires anger, but Young said he has learned to turn that anger into motivation.
There are two kinds of people who help him get to the finish line, he said. Supportive fellow runners, such as the Merrimack Valley Striders, make up one group, he said. The second group is made up of the people who ridicule him and others who are overcoming their challenges.
Yes, Young recently went to the spot where he had to leave the Marathon and finished the race. And yes, when it's time for next year's Boston Marathon, Young plans to be at the starting line in Hopkinton.