A 23-year-old university student from Horsefly in B.C.'s Cariboo region has captained Canada's volleyball team to a third-place finish at the World Dwarf Games in Michigan.

Riley Windeler stepped on to the stand, bowed his head and smiled from ear-to-ear as a bronze medal was placed around his neck.


Riley Windeler is a 23-year-old university student from Horsefly, B.C. (Facebook)

But for Windeler and hundreds of athletes competing this week at the World Dwarf Games on the campus of Michigan State University, the Games are as much about inclusion and fellowship as they are athletics and competition.  

"It's amazing. You don't get to be around little people" in this way, said Windeler, who led his team to a 25-3, 25-15 victory over a team comprised of athletes from various nations.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."  

The games are held every four years and this year they included more than 400 athletes from 23 nations and every U.S. state.

By comparison the 2009 Games in Belfast featured 250 athletes from 12 countries.  

Dwarfism is a medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height of 4-foot-10 or shorter.

Most enjoy normal intelligence, normal life spans, and reasonably good health, according to Little People of America, Inc., a national non-profit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families.   

Known as dwarfs, little people or short-statured, those with dwarfism are sometimes misunderstood, and in extreme cases, ridiculed by members of the public.  

That's why the importance of the weeklong event in the dwarf community can't be overstated, said Len Sawisch, who co-founded the Dwarf Athletic Association of America and is considered a pioneer in the world of dwarf athletics.  

"Most of us grow up being the only little person in our school or our community," Sawisch said.

"To have the opportunity to be with other dwarf athletes" means a lot, he added.