Shelburne teen heads off to Germany to compete in World Dwarf Games

July 27, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Paula Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A teen from Dufferin County will represent Canada on the international stage as he heads to Europe to participate in a multisport competition. 

Thirteen-year-old Shelburne resident Gabriel McHughan is gearing up to make his second appearance at the World Dwarf Games in Cologne, Germany, later this month. 

“I’m feeling good and I’m happy because I get to compete with my friends and hopefully win medals,” said McHughan in a phone interview with the Orangeville Citizen.

McHughan is among 46 Canadian athletes between the ages of 7 and 62 with dwarfism who will be representing Canada at the multisport event at the end of the month. He is set to compete in 8 of the ten events, including badminton, basketball, boccia, soccer, swimming, track and field, table tennis, and volleyball. 

While the number of events may seem overwhelming, the local teen has been training with friends and family members to prepare for the games. 

“This year, I wanted to try new sport and also try to get more medals than last time,” said McHugh. 

He added that the events he is looking the most forward to are table tennis, badminton, and soccer. 

McHughan first participated in the World Dwarf Games in 2017 when they were held in Guelph. At the time, he was the second youngest athlete to signup to compete for Team Canada and finished the games with a gold medal in floor hockey and two bronze medals in track and field. 

The McHughan family was introduced to the games through being members of Little People of Ontario and the Dwarf Athletic Association of Canada, both organizations that help connect little people in Canada and Ontario. After learning about Canada’s successful bid for the 2017 World Dwarf Games, McHughan signed up to take part. 

“He never has anybody like him to play sports with. He plays a lot of team sports, but he’s the only little person so he has to overcome a lot more than other kids do. I wanted him to be able to experience what it was like to compete against athletes that are like him,” said Crystal McHughan, Gabe’s mother. 

In an interview with the Free Press, she spoke about what it means to see her son compete in the World Dwarf Games again. 

“He loves playing sports and to see him get to play against athletes that are like him, on an even playing field, it’s amazing because they’re all trying to do their best to win a medal.” 

The World Dwarf Games (WDG) began in 1993 with the inaugural event held in Chicago, Illinois, hosting 165 athletes from 10 countries. The games are held every four years in an elected host city.  

This year, the games in Germany are expected to be the largest to date, with over 530 athletes from 29 countries set to compete. 

Despite the number of athletes and countries participating in the competition increasing over the last 20 years, the World Dwarf Games continue to be less known compared to other multisport events such as the Olympics, Special Olympics and Paralympics.

What this means is the sponsorship dollars are not there, and the athletes and their families often have to pay their own way – travel and accommodations. 

The Dwarf Athletic Association of Canada (DAAC) is looking to increase public knowledge of the competition and fundraisers to help pay for those costs. 

“Unfortunately, it falls on the families to pay for it and we would love to have a bigger team going to Germany, but it’s a lot of money,” explained Crystal McHughan. 

She also noted that for her and Gabe to attend the competition in Germany, it cost them just shy of $10,000. 

Heading into the games, the Free Press asked what Gabe’s goals are while taking part in the competition. 

“My first one is playing with my friends and doing the best I can. Number two is trying to win medals, number three would be having the most fun that I can have and number four is being there with my friends and family,” said Gabe. 

The World Dwarf Games will run from July 28 to August 5 and will be available via livestream. 

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