As Brandi Van Anne says, she loves biking, and she loves beer.
But when the 21-year-old economics major sips on one of the Rio Grande’s famous margaritas, laughing with her friends, her feet dangle from her chair. Van Anne has achondroplasia, a bone growth disorder that accounts for most cases of dwarfism.
The condition affects about 200,000 people in the U.S.
Van Anne is an incredibly accomplished senior who is very involved with life at CSU. As a Fort Collins native, she has a special place in her heart for the town and the atmosphere.
“I love biking, and I love beer,” Van Anne said with a grin on her face.
She has many other interests, one of which includes swimming. She has been swimming most of her life, and when she was 13 years old she was given the opportunity to swim in the Paralympics.
“I went to the Paralympics in 2000 to Sydney. It was a great experience, being just 13 and the youngest competitor. Then I continued on to Athens when I was 17,” she said. “. after (Athens), I decided I was a little over it, because it’s a lot of hours. you pretty much have to drop your life . I decided to just focus on college.”
Her experiences in the Paralympics and her love of travel have taken her all over the world, including Argentina, Australia, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Greece and the Caribbean Islands.
Despite her accomplishments in swimming, Van Anne would rather be recognized for her academics.
“When people meet me I normally don’t tell them about my accomplishments . I don’t like to get attention,” she said. “If I’m going to get attention I would rather it be for my academics because that is my personality . it’s something I work really hard for . I like being at the top of the class.”
She also takes pride in her academics because she feels like she can prove people wrong who demean her by assuming her height makes her less intelligent.
“People have a tendency to talk to me like I’m five, because that is my height. If I can talk to them very eloquently and surprise them, then it proves that I’m not a child,” Van Anne said.
There are some difficulties Van Anne experiences daily on campus and around Fort Collins. Walking to class is difficult across such a big campus because it causes her shins and back to hurt. Classroom desks are too big and counter tops are too tall.
“You can’t just assume someone’s disability by their looks. There are a lot of invisible disabilities, so there is a lot of pain I face. People may just say ‘she is just short,'” she said. “Part of dwarfism involves a lot of joint and spinal problems, my brain stem is fused to my spine and my lower spine is deteriorating.”
She currently has two campus jobs, one at the Career Center and another at Resources for Disabled Students, where she has worked since she was a freshman.
“. I think we (RDS) are under appreciated. We do a lot of things, and I don’t think a lot of students realize exactly how much we do, because we are one of the advocacy offices,” Van Anne said.
RDS mainly provides alternative testing to those who can’t test in a normal setting. They also offer services such as scribes, readers, alternative text and interpreters.
“I’ve been working there for four years now, and so I pretty much do everything,” Van Anne said.
Along with working 21-hour work weeks and a full time class load, Van Anne also participates in programs such as a special needs swim program and a peer-mentoring group. She said it’s important to educate people about her condition.
“I feel like it is important to educate people and promote awareness about dwarfism. Many people don’t understand that ‘midget’ or ‘little person’ are considered derogatory remarks,” Van Anne said.
Van-Anne also stresses the fact that although often people assume that all dwarves are the same because they are short, they are still individuals.
“We may have the same dwarfism . but we are still individuals,” she said.
Staff writer Chelsea Cushing can be reached at email@example.com.