Austinite Sam Bremen drove up to Michigan this week to do something he’s steered clear of in the past — hang out with dwarves.
At age 27, Bremen figures it’s time to give it a try. At 4 feet 6 inches tall, Bremen is a dwarf who, until now, intentionally has avoided organizations and activities for folks like him. Now, he says, it’s time to see what it’s like.
Bremen will play soccer, basketball, badminton and boccia (a bocce-like game) at the World Dwarf Games at Michigan State University in East Lansing. It’s a week-long event that begins Saturday, involves participants from 17 nations and is a healthy reminder that athletes come in all sizes.
I first got to know Bremen when he was a classmate of my son. I recall the letter his mom, Katy Graham, wrote to parents to introduce them and their kids to Sam.
“I decided to ease people’s minds by putting out information that would explain dwarfism,” Graham told me in an email, adding that the letter, used whenever her son went to a new school, produced good results. “People were no longer embarrassed and expressed joy and acceptance for my baby boy.”
And, as tends to happen not long after we’re exposed to something different, Bremen became just another kid at school.
Graham also told me she’s worked to have the word dwarf used as “a descriptive term, not a derogatory one.”
Bremen finished high school in 2004 and headed to Whittier College in California. (Because Bremen’s always had an eye for the unusual, he was eager to make sure I knew he shares an alma mater with Richard Nixon.)
After college, Bremen came home and has been teaching for five years at Open Door Preschool, a great program blessed with kids of differing backgrounds and abilities. He’s also working on a graduate degree at Texas State University. And the kids soccer team he coaches at the YMCA went undefeated this past season. Says his mom, “Whenever I watch Sam’s little 4- and 5-year-old soccer team play, I get teary-eyed with joy and pride.” Moms …
Bremen and I sat on the little chairs in his classroom while the kids (well-supervised) played in an adjoining room. While we talked, a kid in cowboy boots wandered in and stood next to his teacher. The boy just wanted to be next to him; he had no questions. I had plenty, starting with the obvious.
“It’s great,” Bremen said about being a dwarf, calling it a challenge best confronted when you “learn that life is better and more fun when you can keep your chin up.”
Bremen has endured the cruelty and curiosity that difference invites. “I don’t want to say that it happens every day,” he said, “but in certain ways, it does happen every day.”
In Copenhagen, during a college semester abroad, Bremen encountered people who’d never seen anyone like him. He dealt with the pointing and laughing with the most valuable Danish word he learned, the one that means “enough.”
Are any of the jokes funny?
“If they’re smart,” he said. “I am totally a proponent and advocate of humor, and I really believe in humor, and I love to laugh.” He appreciated the type of humor spawned by the Mini-Me character in the Austin Powers movies.
A few days before heading north, Bremen was excited and a bit nervous about what he’d find at a dwarf event. (His online fundraising effort for the trip is at indiegogo.com/projects/world-dwarf-games.) He’s not against such events or organizations, but he previously avoided them out of concern that it might narrow his world. Bremen recalls going to a Little People of America event in Dallas when he was a kid, maybe 7 years old. “And that was where I started to feel I just didn’t want to be sort of secluded or segregated, or that’s what I felt I kind of was.”
Now, fully engaged in the broader world, Bremen has a different perspective.
“After living my life this long, I want to get into this organization because — now that I’ve had this sort of world view — I really feel like I need this organization’s view and to feel what their perspective is,” he said.
More immediately, he wants to come home with some of the organization’s medals.