In this Thursday, March 15, 2018, photo, marathon runner John Young, of Salem, Mass., makes his way along a training route in Salem. Young was born with dwarfism, but that hasn’t stopped him from conquering multiple marathons and triathlons. While most marathoners take about 35,000 steps to reach the finish line, Young uses about 80,000. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A giant feat: Canadian marathoner with dwarfism conquers Boston, life

John Young was born with dwarfism, but that hasn’t stopped him from conquering multiple marathons and triathlon.

Most marathoners take 35,000 steps to reach the finish line. John Young needs 80,000.

The high school math teacher from Canada is part of a rare and spirited breed of athlete: those who’ve overcome the daunting challenges of dwarfism to conquer the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometre) distance.

Many endure not just the usual rigours of training but cruel taunts from onlookers — “Hey, check out the midget” — as they put in their miles.

But Young, who lightheartedly refers to himself as an LP (“little person”), has become an inspiration to others with dwarfism — and his accomplishments have won him respect and admiration around the globe.

“A lot of people in my life, especially when I was younger, said, ‘You can’t do that — you’re too small. You can’t do that — you’re too short. You might get hurt,’” Young, 52, said at his home in Salem, famed for its 1690s witch trials.

“I heard that a lot and I used to listen,” he said. “Now I don’t listen.”

Young is a member of an elite club: Only four athletes with dwarfism are known to have completed marathons, and he’s finished the most — 10 — including four Boston Marathons and three New York City Marathons. He’s also competed in 50 triathlons — including Ironman Maryland — and his latest goal, starting with Boston on April 16, is to run 12 marathons in 12 months.

He stands only 4 feet 4 inches, but he’s the biggest little person Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray knows.

“He’s an example of somebody who’s overcome his own physical challenges and inspired thousands of people to live their dreams,” McGillivray said. “He trains and competes just like every other athlete. He says, ‘I am who I am. I’m going to succeed at my level and I’m going to feel good about myself.’”

Related: Lovig breaks three hours in Boston

That wasn’t always the case for Young.

Born in Toronto with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, he grew up in foster care. “People asked, ‘Are you going to be in the circus? Are you going to be a midget wrestler? Are you going to be an entertainer?’ And I was like, “No, I like school. I like math. I want to go to college,’” he said.

Young, who graduated as valedictorian, swam and played street and pond hockey. But he never ran — doctors worried the pounding would cause back problems.

“They always said, ‘Don’t run, don’t run, it’s not a good idea, stay away from it,’” he said.

Over the years, Young’s weight ballooned to nearly 200 pounds (90 kilos) — dangerously obese for his height — and he developed sleep apnea. To shed pounds, he returned to the pool and took up cycling. He entered a triathlon but skipped the run portion, still worried it might cripple him.

Finally, he caved, and he couldn’t believe what he’d been missing.

“What I found was the more I ran, the less my back actually hurt,” said Young, whose light running style enables him to recover remarkably quickly.

Colleagues noticed other benefits.

“When I first met John, he was falling asleep at his desk,” said Eric Olson, who teaches math with Young at the Pingree School , a private academy in nearby Hamilton. “Today he’s such a productive guy. He oxygenates his brain. He really is an elite athlete — he takes what he does super seriously.”

Former student Veronica Monteiro, 23, says Young inspired her to run her first Boston Marathon. “I look up to him so much,” she said, giggling at her phrasing.

Young appreciates the humour. (He’s been known to slip a subtle “Snow White” reference into a conversation: “I’m a little sleepy today. I’m also a little sneezy.”) But he’s not amused by others’ heckling or snickering — especially if it’s aimed at his wife, Sue Casey, or 15-year-old son, Owen, who also have dwarfism.

His pet peeve: when strangers run past in a race and say, “Thanks for being out here.”

“I’m like, ‘Thank you, too,’” he said. “I know what they’re trying to say. But I’m not out there for them. If I motivate you because of some part of my story, that’s great. But if all you’re looking at is the physical fact that I’m a little person and I’m running, that’s the wrong message.”

Related: B.C. woman wins lottery on New York City Marathon

Young’s no speedster. He averages 13 minutes per mile (8 minutes per kilometre), and in marathons, he usually walks a minute for every nine minutes he runs. His personal best is 5 hours 50 minutes.

But that’s plenty fast enough to inspire.

His son now runs track and cross-country, breaking his old man’s 5K times. Little People of America , a non-profit group, hails him as a hero. And Young gets emails from the parents of children with dwarfism thanking him for being a role model.

“That’s the part I treasure,” he said. “I don’t know how long I can keep doing it, but I don’t have an end date in mind. I’m going to keep going as long as I can.”

___

William J. Kole, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Grieving Langley widow, with teen boy, shares a story of angels

Walnut Grove’s Rick Rozdeba’s hospice story evoked tears and brought the crowd to its feet.

Hells Angels invited to rally by anti-SOGI organizer

The Culture Guard group has helped Hells Angels in the past, said its executive director.

Langley foot race blends love of running and animals

Cat mom and long-time shelter volunteer speaks to excitement for Sunday run.

Langley’s L.J. Tidball debuts and wins in Mexican Nations Cup

As one of four Canadian riders, a local show park owner helped secure the country’s victory.

Demolition suggestion outside role of inspector: Fraser Health

Letters on Fort Langley buildings say they are rat and vermin infested.

Police release criminal profile of suspect in Burnaby teen’s murder

Marrisa Shen was found dead in a Burnaby park last summer

TRAFFIC ALERT: Mounties shut down Port Mann Bridge

A police incident has the bridge closed in both directions, but RCMP expect it to re-open soon.

B.C.’s living wage increase curbed due to MSP cuts, child care subsidy: report

Living wage varies between $16.51 in north central B.C. to $20.91 in Metro Vancouver

Aldergrove youth soccer ‘springs’ into action

Aldergrove Youth Soccer kids sprang into action Monday evening on first spring-like day of the year

‘Rusting in Peace’

Langley Quilters turn art into quilt for 2018 show

Doctor sees healing power in psychedelic plant as Peru investigates death of B.C. man

Peru’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of two suspects in the killing of 41-year-old Sebastian Woodroffe

Toronto police officer ‘gave himself the space and time’ in van attack

Footage shows officer standing up, turning off his siren and talking clearly to the suspect

$1.18 to $1.58 a litre: Are you paying the most for gas in B.C.?

Gas prices across B.C. vary, with lowest in Vernon and highest in – you guessed it – Metro Vancouver

EDITORIAL: Speaking out for sexual identities

Both sides of SOGI debate for B.C. schools show signs of bravery, but not all are heroic

Most Read