DESPITE her small stature, Bendigo teenager Ashleigh Hutchins refuses to let anything hold her back.
Ashleigh, who has a form of dwarfism called hypochondraplasia, will represent Australia in August at the 2013 World Dwarf Games in the US state of Michigan.
The 19-year-old is one of 31 Australian athletes hoping to do our nation proud.
She will compete in swimming and track and field events.
“The other athletes are from Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland and there’s two from South Australia, Tasmania and also Western Australia,” Ashleigh said.
She has two coaches – one for swimming and another for athletics – and boasts a busy training schedule.
Ashleigh said she never dreamed that she’d one day be representing Australia in an event of this magnitude.
The World Dwarf Games is now in its sixth year and is touted as the “largest sporting event in history exclusively for athletes with dwarfism”.
The games will see athletes from every corner of the globe competing in a range of sporting events – something that is unachievable for people with dwarfism in mainstream competitions.
“My friends and family are really happy that I’ve gotten this far, that I’ve achieved my goal to be where I am now,” Ashleigh said.
It is anticipated that national training sessions and the games themselves will cost athletes about $5000 each.
The Australian team fund-raising campaign target is $160,000 so Ashleigh is seeking donations from the Bendigo community. “I’m going to send letters out to local businesses and will try and get some fund-raising happening,” she said.
Ashleigh completed year 12 last year and is taking a year off study, but intends to start an event management course in Melbourne next year.
She works at Sam’s Warehouse and wants to put dwarfism – and acceptance of people with dwarfism – in the spotlight.
“When I was younger, things were worse than what it is now,” she said.
“But I get the odd comments every now and again, but I mainly just get the looks.”
Ashleigh’s mum, Fiona Hutchins, said there was still a stigma surrounding dwarfism.
“We hope to get the message out there about dwarfism, that it’s not this scary thing, because there still is that stigma there,” she said.
“She’s different, she looks different and we understand that, but when people stop and laugh, it’s not nice.”
Ms Hutchins said she couldn’t be more proud of her daughter.
“It’s all very exciting,” she said.
“This is only the second time that Australia’s going to compete in the games... It’s fantastic that she can actually compete against her peers.
“At the moment, with sport in Bendigo, she can’t do that.
“She played netball in senior school until year nine or so, until it got ridiculous, and the short-statured Victorian group has a competition in Melbourne where they play basketball in an under-12 competition, but it’s hard to travel for that regularly.
“So this is a really great opportunity for Ashleigh and we’re very, very proud of her.”
Australia was successful on debut at the 2009 World Dwarf Games, when 15 athletes brought home 24 medals.
Australian team manager Rob Millard has his fingers crossed for more great results this time.
“Team Australia is committed to raising the bar of competition, integrity and passion,” he said.
“Our athletes are fully committed to their preparations and are focused on continuing Australia’s sharp rise on the world stage.”
To find out more about sponsoring or donating money to the team, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about Ashleigh’s sporting endeavours in Women in Sport, in Saturday’s Bendigo Advertiser, later this month.