My Life Story - Richard Copeland
My life began on the 26th May 1991 in Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow. I have two older sisters who are 2 and 4 years older than me respectively. My Mum was a stay at home mum when I was born and my Dad lectures at the University of Strathclyde. I grew up in Torrance which is a countryside village just north of Glasgow. The first Restricted Growth Association convention that I attended, which I do not remember as I was only one year old, was held in Bradford. This gave my Mum and Dad their first chance to meet people with the same condition as me. They learned a lot of valuable information and found out about people who live in Scotland with the same condition as me. There was no regional parent co-ordinator for the Scottish region, so after some consideration my Dad decided to take up the role. He organised an event was when I was 4 years old at my local community centre. At this meeting we had the chance to meet a family from Milngavie with whom I am still friends.
A year later I started primary school in my village. I kind of forgot that I had short stature at school as everyone treated me normally. I had a classroom assistant which helped me out with things I could not manage on my own. There were little to no adaptations needed for my school, I had a special chair and a chair to sit on whilst everyone was on the floor during assemblies. These adaptations were to help with my back because sitting for prolonged periods in an awkward position made my back very painful. During breaks and at lunch I would be involved with everyone else and had no problem making friends and playing the usual playground games.
My memories get very vivid from around primary 5 and onwards and I can remember people asking me about my height, but I never thought that there was anything wrong with me, I always thought I would have a late growth spurt coming. When I entered primary 7, I was still very much shorter than everybody else, and I started to wonder why this was the case. I can remember some people in public would stare at me and some younger kids would laugh but I didn't think too much of it. My Mum and Dad did a good job of making me very independent and this made me feel as though there was nothing really different about me. I had not attended any conventions during my time at primary school as my Mum and Dad wanted me to become very independent and to learn for myself what life was about. As I became more aware of the difference in height between me and my friends I started to really wonder why. I asked my Mum and Dad about it and they thought it was time that I should go to my first convention for nine years.
Going to my first convention was quite the eye opener as I was in a hotel filled with people the same height as me. It was a real shock and pretty amazing at the same time. I instantly made friends and had a great weekend playing football and just socialising about everyday life and how it affects us. At this weekend I was told about the DAAUK which organizes a sports weekend every year for people with dwarfism to compete with people of the same age. At this event I entered many events ranging from athletics to badminton. During my final year at school I realised I couldn't compete with my peers as I wasn't as fast or as agile as everyone else, but at the DAA I strived and won many events and came home with a handful of medals every year. Now I was very aware of my condition and that I would be small for the rest of my life, I started what should have been the toughest time of my life; high school.
Before I started high school, I had an induction day to see what would be needed to make my life a little bit easier. Height adjustable chairs, an auxiliary helper and to be released 5 minutes early were what was decided that I need. My first few weeks of high school were the ones I was dreading the most, seeing how people would react to my height. It turned out that everyone seemed to be ok about it; my friends from primary school were also very protective of me making sure I was ok during break and lunch. After the first few weeks everyone was used to me and didn't take any notice. The thing I hated the most about school was my auxiliary, she would follow me everywhere I went making sure I didn't hurt myself. On a few occasions I ran away from her to make my point that it wasn't necessary to be followed all the time. After four years of the auxiliary, my school finally realised it wasn't necessary for someone to follow me around, so I was set free and was allowed to be independent. Every year a new dread would come up however; the new kids in first year. They would always be a problem for a while, but after a couple of weeks I was old news and they forgot about me.
I was still attending the DAA every year and in 2005 the World Dwarf games were held in Paris, France. At this event 300 dwarves from around the world competed together to be the world champion. This was an absolutely great experience and one that I will never forget. Exactly one year later the European games were held in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This was where I met my girlfriend, Emma. It was amazing to have a connection with a girl with the same condition as me, it just felt right. We talked online for ages until we finally met up again in Scotland where she was competing in a badminton competition for short statured people. We are still together after 4 years of long distance relationship.
In 2008, I sat my higher examinations which would decide my future and whether I would go to university or not. The school decided and I agreed that it was appropriate for me to get extra time and a room by myself in which I could stretch my back after hours of writing during the exams. I had my chair with a foot rest so I could support my legs to make me as comfortable as possible. The results day wouldn’t be until August so I had a whole summer of dread. The results finally arrived, and I had achieved the grades needed to get into university, I was ecstatic. Now to find the university I would be spending the next 5 years of my life. I went to open days at the universities I wanted to attend. Glasgow University just felt right for me; no one had a problem with my height whatsoever. Unlike Strathclyde University, where I just felt always on edge because the campus is in the city centre where there are many NEDS wandering about just waiting to have a laugh and a stare. So it was decided, I would be attending Glasgow University to study Mechanical Design Engineering.
During my final year of school I had made it my goal to learn how to drive. Motability is a scheme I was on that helps people with a disability get a car by giving Motability the mobility component of your DLA and subsidises driving lessons. The adaptations to my car are very minor, just pedal extensions and a pillow behind my back to push me forwards. I learned to drive within the year and passed my test first time; this made me so much more independent. I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
The summer before I started university I decided to take a holiday to America alone. My family and I had always travelled round Europe when I was young and had been to many fantastic places such as America and Brazil, so planes weren't a problem for me. My flight was direct to Boston, so all I had to was get on one plane and get off on the other side to meet my aunt and uncle. I had decided to take my bike over as my uncle and I are avid cyclists and I had always wanted to cycle round the rural state of Maine. My bike arrived safely waiting for me to pick it up in the baggage reclaim, but it was far too heavy for me to lift. However, someone I had been talking to on the flight came over and asked if I needed help and got the bike onto the trolley for me. During the time I was there I cycled 60 miles on many different terrains.
Before I started university I had an introductory day, very similar to the one I had at my high school. I met with the disability adviser and we had a chat about what we felt was needed. The main priority I had in mind was a parking space within the campus so that I could drive in everyday as I couldn't manage the commute every day from my home village. Because I had a blue badge for my car, this was a very easy thing to arrange. I spent my first few weeks at university with my friends from school, but that all changed after I went on an adventure weekend organized by my university. This was something I dreaded even though I really wanted to go because I was being taken out of my comfort zone and forced to work with other people I had never talked to before. I started off the weekend knowing just one person but at the end of the weekend I had talked to almost everyone and had made seven close friends. The challenges that we were given were difficult, ranging from abseiling to kayaking for three miles. However, everyone was aware that I might not be able to do some things as quickly as the others, so everyone slowed down for me. They had only known me for 24 hours. It was amazing!
So, overall as I look back on my life so far it has been quite an adventure, one that has given me more opportunities than someone of normal stature. Of course there are a few days when I think that I want to be 'normal' and ask myself why it was me that was born with this disability. However, I think that I am very lucky to have the life that I have. My parents brought me up to be independent and now I'm living away from home really striving to live an everyday life and succeeding.