HPU student comes up big at World Dwarf Games

Sep. 12, 2013 @ 03:02 PM

At 4-foot-2, Stephanie Vrettakos clearly meets the definition of a dwarf.
The High Point University junior stood tall last month, though, when she won three medals — one gold and two silvers — at the 2013 World Dwarf Games, a multisport competition for dwarf athletes. The games took place Aug. 3-10 in East Lansing, Mich.
“This was my first year competing, and I’m not a real competitive person, so I was surprised that I won,” says Vrettakos, a native of Ellicott City, Md. “I was in shock, actually.”
She won a gold medal in the 50-meter breaststroke, a silver in the 100-meter breaststroke, and a silver in soccer.
Vrettakos, 20, was born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism.
“That means my arms and legs are shorter, but my torso is the same height as if I was a person of average stature,” she explains. “My parents found out about it when I was about 3 months old, and they were freaking out at first.”
Her parents were extremely protective, though, doing all they could to shelter her from cruel teasing, and even helping her to embrace her differences, she says.
“I don’t remember having a lot of issues,” Vrettakos says. “I got pretty lucky growing up.”
Today, as a young woman, she still attracts attention wherever she goes, but it doesn’t bother her.
“People are intrigued, and I understand that,” she says. “I’ve been dealing with people who don’t know what a little person is my whole life, so the staring and comments don’t bother me. We might be out somewhere, and my friends will be upset because someone is staring and whispering, but half the time I don’t even notice.”
It was only in May that Vrettakos began training for the World Dwarf Games. Growing up, she had participated in competitions sponsored by the Dwarf Athletic Association of America — which also hosts the World Dwarf Games — but she hadn’t competed in several years after undergoing major back surgery in 2007.
“My mom found me an amazing coach, and he worked really hard with me to get me ready for the games,” she says. “A lot of hard work went into it, and it obviously paid off, but without him, there’s no way I would’ve done as well as I did.”
Vrettakos, a business entrepreneurship major at HPU, hopes to open her own clothing and accessories boutique someday. In the meantime, she plans to join the HPU Club Swim Team now that she’s actively competing in swimming again.
“Swimming in the World Dwarf Games this summer showed me that hard work and dedication go a long way,” Vrettakos says. “If you asked me in May where I would be at the end of the summer, I never thought I’d be able to say I am a world champion. I hope to continue competing and see how far swimming takes me.”
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