Leopold couple with big hearts

LEOPOLD couple Oliver and Graci Lynch were born on different continents and had different upbringings, but it was a similarity that ultimately brought the pair closer together .

Both have a condition known as achondroplasia. It’s the most common form of dwarfism, which affects one in every 20,000 births and results in shorter than normal skeletal growth, particularly in the arms and legs.

However the pair’s intelligence, emotions and life ambitions remain the same as anyone else, a key focus as they look to further promote acceptance through Dwarfism Awareness Month in October.

Oliver, 35, was born in Scotland and travelled to Australia as a 15-year-old with his family, looking to take advantage of an economy which they were “more likely to prosper in”.

“It was an interesting time because it was just as I was entering into year 11, so it was quite a change for me,” he recalled .

“It was one I was excited by, but when you actually settle in you go ‘Oh geez, this is a little bit difficult’.

“You’ve got a new country, a new school system and then you’ve got to make friends with people who’ve already made their network of friends. Let’s be honest, having a physical difference, that’s a challenging side if you like.

“I had to certainly be very positive in those years, as much as I could, to try and make those friends and connections.” Later in life, Oliver met Graci on an online support forum for short-statured people, where the usual swapping of details led their relationship “to another level” as they organised to meet at a Little People of America conference in Boston that year.

Graci, 32, grew up in the American state of Massachusetts with a family situation she describes as “like the Brady Bunch” — five biological sisters, two half-brothers and a stepsister who was her best friend growing up.

Having communicated regularly beforehand, the first meeting was “surprisingly easy” for the two and after Oliver made several trips to America, Graci made a trip to Melbourne in 2007 to “test the waters”; an experience which would confirm her desire to make the move permanent.

“This was my first ever international trip, and the biggest one ever to take because it took me 24 hours to get here,” she said.

“I felt it was the right time, I’m a very independent person. It was one of those things where I just had to give it a go, and I obviously care very much about Ollie.” The couple moved to Geelong in September 2013 before settling in Leopold in November last year.

Oliver now works locally as a regional support officer at the National Disability Insurance Agency in what he describes as a “really enjoyable role”, helping those with similar differences to his own get on the right path with relevant support.

Graci is a compliance administrator for St Laurence subsidiary Advanced Career Training, managing student files for those undertaking accredited training in fields such as aged care, disability and work education.

Both are Victorian members of the non-profit organisation Short Statured People of Australia, and are helping to host an event at the Leopold Sportsmans Club on Saturday to promote awareness and the association to others.

Graci said there was often a common misconception that short-statured people were “entertainers” and did not hold the same values as others, but dwarfism in the spotlight more recently — such as Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage — had helped break barriers.For more information about Dwarfism Awareness Month and the Short Statured People of Australia, visit the website at sspa.org.au/.

Article by Bodey Dittloff

Source: Echo [Geelong, Victoria] 22nd October 2015, page 11.