The Little People of America marks its 50th anniversary this week in Seattle, with members gathering to meet and compete.

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The athlete from Espanola, N.M., was thrilled to get the accolades, high-fives and the gold medal for winning the 100-meter dash at a track-and-field competition held at Roosevelt High School Saturday morning.

But the best part of the event — and perhaps the whole week’s worth of events — was the simplest of pleasures.

“It’s just being able to meet people and look them eye to eye instead of looking up at them all the time,” said 18-year-old Jake Smith.

Smith, a dwarf, is among thousands of people from all over the United States meeting at the Little People of America conference and competing in the 2007 Dwarf Athletic Association of America’s National Games, both held this week in greater Seattle.

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The LPA, the largest dwarf organization in the world, was founded 50 years ago as a social club and activist organization by Billy Barty, an actor with dwarfism.

He said he intended the organization to combat the perception that little people were all sideshow acts and circus freaks — perceptions he said kept people of short stature at the outer fringes of society.

The LPA provides advocacy, education, support and health-care referrals on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million dwarfs in the country.

There are more than 100 types of dwarfism, but any adult under 4 feet 10 inches is considered a dwarf and is welcome to join the organization, according to the Web site.

Attendees of the conference said “little people,” “dwarf” and “short-statured” are all terms they use to describe themselves.

The conference this year, which runs through Friday, is at the Doubletree Hotel in SeaTac, where more than 700 rooms have been rented by dwarfs and their relatives and friends.

Because it’s the organization’s 50th anniversary, a huge celebration banquet is planned for Monday night.

Unique opportunity

Longtime LPA members Matt and Amy Roloff of the hit reality TV series “Little People, Big World” will attend. They’ll be with their son, Zach, who will be playing in a soccer match Wednesday morning at Steven J. Underwood Memorial park in Des Moines. Events that day go from 8 a.m. to noon.

In addition, the organization is sponsoring sightseeing trips and health-care clinics featuring doctors who specialize in health care for dwarfs.

“For many parents of children with short stature, especially those from small towns, this is the first chance they will have to talk to a doctor with special knowledge of dwarfism,” said Jimmy Loyless, president of the Dwarf Athletic Association of America.

The athletic association, which used to be funded by the Olympic Committee, now runs entirely on donations and volunteer work.

In addition to the track-and-field competition on Saturday, there will be swim meets, basketball games and soccer matches.

Dianna Carda, a 51-year-old from Omaha, Neb., whose relay team took first in the women’s division, competes on an elite athletic team and is the only member of short stature. She gets plenty of exercise as a wellness instructor, she said, but enjoys the chance to compete against those her own size and to mentor younger people.

“I like to run and swim against people my own size. It gives me a goal to keep myself in shape,” she said.

For most of those who attend, though, the conference is really about meeting people, making friends and spending time with other little people.

Parents were told at a meeting to look around carefully. “They said our future in-laws could be in here,” said JoAnn Cekanor, of Milwaukee, Wis.

Best friends Colin Kraft, 17, of Minneapolis, and Michael Niemann, 16, of Davenport, Iowa, used to come for the sporting events, sightseeing and the rest of the activities.

But what they’re really pinning their hopes on this year are the dances held every night.

“We’re going to go back to the hotel, go swimming, and then around 7, we’re going to take a shower, get good-looking and go to the dance,” said Kraft.

His friend had his eye on a few girls in particular, but Kraft said he’s open to whatever the night brings.

“I’m not that picky,” he said. “This place is full of attractive women: young, old, tall, short, blond and brunet. And even tall ones are used to seeing little people. So, it’s all good.”

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or

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