Shamokin man wins gold at World Dwarf Games
SHAMOKIN - When Justin Rickert lined up to throw the javelin during the 2013 World Dwarf Games in East Lansing, Mich., he did so without any formal training.
Same goes for his entrance in the shot put competition during the international athletic event for Little People.
A baseball player during high school at Shamokin Area, Rickert didn't participate in track. He never trained in javelin or shot put. But he's long proven to be a talented athlete all around, and so he gave it a go last week.
It's a good thing he did. He brought home a gold medal in javelin after a throw of almost 105 feet. His last toss of the shot went nearly 28 feet, good enough for the bronze.
Not bad for a first-timer.
Rickert, 31, of Shamokin, left the campus of Michigan State University with five medals in all, including team medals: gold in volleyball, silver in basketball and bronze in soccer.
Basketball is his favorite sport, and perhaps his best. His team, The New York Towers, lost to a rival squad, The Statesmen, on the floor of Michigan State University's famed Breslin Center - a loss he didn't take lightly.
He'd never played soccer competitively before but picked it up quickly, scoring a goal in each of his team's last four games.
Lots of support
The 6th World Dwarf Games were held Aug. 3 to 10. Like the Olympics, the event is held every four years. There were 395 athletes representing 17 countries at the 2013 games, 204 of whom were from the U.S.
His parents, Bill and Christine, and sister, Jordan, made the drive to watch him compete. They brought along his dog, Ali, a 6-year-old brindle Boxer. He was happy to have the support from his family and from his fellow athletes.
"It's crazy how close everybody is. Every player out there had a lot of support from their family, too," he said.
Rickert has long competed in sports and held his own against people taller than he, be it casually or in high school.
When he first started to compete against Little People two years ago, he says he had to adjust. No one is giving him any room to operate. No one is cutting him any slack - not that he's ever asked for any to begin with.
"Everybody's in my face now. These guys are crazy quick and it's impressive," he said while talking about his World Dwarf Games experience. "Sometimes I think it's even harder playing against Little People because they're right where I am now where bigger people aren't."
"I'm used to being the one looking up. Now I'm not looking up at all. It's pretty cool," he said.
'Keep me going'
Growing up, Rickert hung out with a large group of friends who excelled in athletics, and he hung with them as they played against one another. His sister was a star basketball player for Shamokin Area.
His condition was essentially overlooked by his peers, and when his friends make jokes at his expense, as friends do, his height often isn't the target.
He decided more than two years ago to compete in a basketball league with fellow Little People. That came with an opportunity to attend a national convention. He admits adjusting to a world where everyone sees eye-to-eye was a bit awkward, and fellow Little People warned him it could be overwhelming, too.
"Even when I went to the convention and I saw how many Little People (there were), it was kind of overwhelming," he said.
Rickert is a member of the New York Towers basketball team. Listed at 4 feet, 10 inches, he's among the tallest. They play together against other teams and also play at charity events to raise money in support of Dwarfism awareness. He went to the Dwarf games with his Towers teammates, and he competed with them in the team sports competitions.
Rickert, a Penn State University graduate, works as a network analyst for Geisinger. He is also a PIAA referee and beginning this winter, will be an assistant for Shamokin Area's junior high boys basketball team.
He'll continue to referee, work out and play sports like basketball and golf. He says he'll continue competing in Dwarf events, too.
"I might as well do this to keep me going. There's nothing wrong with it," Rickert said.