A Fighting Chance
by: Jennifer Crumly
I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot of LA Boxing trying to get the courage to exit my vehicle.
This isn’t a new phenomenon, I always have a small panic attack before walking into the gym. I start repeating my mantra over and over again: I’m here. I’m healthy. I’m whole. (it’s the same mantra I chant as I ride in airplanes and irritates the hell out of the passengers sitting around me)
I scan the parking lot and spot my friend Dave. Oh thank God, there’s Dave, my friend, I’ll walk in with him. Quickly I gather my things and exit the car, trying to nonchalantly catch up to him as he strides towards the entrance.
Hey, Jenn, What’s up?
Hi Dave, oh not much, how is it going?
Good. Another day in the boxing ring, eh?
Yup, it’s gonna be another good workout.
We both walk through the double glass doors and scan our passes on the computer. A couple of people look up and notice me, most of them are regulars and are used to my short presence. The kids class is just finishing up and a few of the children are running around. I hold my breath hoping none of them will notice me, the last thing I need right now is some adorable child racking my nerves screaming over the music proclaiming, GOSH YOU ARE SO LITTLE! Thankfully the parents start streaming in to pick up their little ones as I stride over to my favorite bag, back corner, next to the water fountain.
I sit down and double knot my shoes, they somehow always come undone if I don’t, and pull my hair back into pony tail. I start wrapping my hands as Dave and I make casual conversation. Now and then I glance over to the front door as people start filtering in for the 5:15 class taught by Trevor. Every minute or so a member crosses the threshold of the gym and the computer emits a loud beep as they scan their id’s. Some of the people remember me, the others that don’t, catch a glimpse and do that oh-so-familiar-to-a-dwarf quick double take passerby’s make as their brains try to make sense of the shape a person with dwarfism creates “..is that a child or an adult? Oh it’s an adult s**t is that a midget? No wait, that’s not the right word little person yes, I think that’s a little person. Oh God I’m staring. Stop staring. Stop staring, LOOK DOWN! .”
I smile knowingly and go back to wrapping my hands, the speakers start blasting Amerie’s 1-Thing and I know class is about to start.
I’ve heard a lot of other adults with dwarfism talk about the interesting dichotomy it is to be a little person, in the average size world. On one end you have the “little” world, one in which competition is at eye level. We’re all equals (I’ll make this statement now for the sake of the argument of LP’s (Little Person) vs. AP’s (Average Person), even though there is much discussion regarding competition with regard to types of dwarfism within our community). And then on the other end we have the competition of us versus the average population. Take for instance this boxing I’m doing. Many of the guys in here have mentioned that I am one of the only dwarfs that 1. They have ever met and 2. Box. I thought about this and the unmentioned pressure I automatically feel from that comment. I’m one of the only ones they will ever meet, I have to be a good example. A great example in fact. I have to be the best female dwarf boxer they will ever meet. I can’t lose. I can’t fail. I can’t quite simply entertain the idea of their lowered expectations of me. I just can’t. I want to change perceptions. I want to shake their misguided beliefs to their core. And I know I’m not the only one.
Each time I venture out on some new journey I arm myself with conversation starters, a diversion tactic and an emergency escape route in case things get too much for me. By too much I mean, too much attention. Too much exposure. Too many rowdy teens. Because every day I step out my front door, I have an audience. Because every time I step in boxing ring and Trevor says to me, “It’s ShowTime”, people are watching and I give it my all. I show them what a dwarf woman is capable of. Yes of course I exercise for me, but I kick ass for a whole other set of reasons. And when someone approaches me and says, Wow, you’re really good. How I want to respond is, No, actually I’m not, I’m just average, but I’m better than your stereotype of me was. But I don’t, I say thanks, and smile. And then there are those days that I don’t feel like “performing”. Some days, I just want to be mediocre or average. Or terrible. SOME days, I’d like to be awful in public and not feel like my awfulness would be misconstrued to be their predilection of dwarfism.
Trevor is walking through class watching and correcting students on their form when he walks by me. “Seriously Jenn, turn your damn hips when you throw your hook. Step, pivot, hook, got it?” Got it. I love boxing. I finally found a sport that is exciting, adaptable for my height and something I can see myself doing for a long time. I’ve got a fighting chance to be great.