By Cindy Chambers
Few of us can remember being so small we had to climb into a chair, or couldn’t reach a faucet, or had to ask for help grabbing an item from a grocery store shelf. But for 26-year-old Bethel Success student Brittney Bowen, every day stretches her to overcome such challenges. An achondroplasic dwarf, Brittney is 3’ 9” tall — the height of an average 3 ½-year-old. But the little person with big goals is as bold as they come. She sees every challenge as an opportunity – to include earning her bachelor’s degree at Bethel.
I first met Brittney last spring, when I was in the throes of moving from one house to another. Rushing to a Clarksville furniture store for a needed sofa, Brittney approached me with a bright smile and the easy demeanor of a natural salesperson. When she saw the Bethel t-shirt I was wearing, she said she’d been considering enrolling for quite some time.
Needless to say, we both sold something that day – I got a new couch, and Brittney got a new start on an even brighter future.
Adopted at birth by a family of little people in Springfield, TN, Brittney never let her stature get in the way of her dreams. After graduating from high school in 2009, she enrolled in Pellissippi State Community College, majoring in general studies while balancing a part-time job. She transferred to Western Kentucky University in 2010, majoring first in Family Consumer Science Education, then Communication Studies, and then back to Consumer Science. Like most young people, Brittney just wasn’t sure what she would do when she grew up.
But after a stint at Volunteer State Community College, she was hired to work at the furniture store where we met. A sales representative for nearly three years, she finally found her calling in customer service and PR. But the road hasn’t been an easy one.
“I’ve faced a lot of challenges in the workforce,” she says. “A lot of doors close because of my size.” But Brittney takes it in stride, saying, “When I go in for the interview, some people just can’t handle it. That means I’m not a good fit for the company. But it also means they’ll never see what I can do.”
Having recently instructed Brittney in a marketing class, I know it’s their loss. Engaged and engaging, she’s bright, motivated, and excited about the coursework.
“Of course, some classes are more challenging than others,” she says. “My favorites are the ones that deal with selling, marketing, and building relationships. The more I learn, the more motivated I become. I want to help people help themselves.”
It’s a lesson she’s learned first-hand.
Now living completely on her own, she’s had to adapt to a big world. Her father made pedal extensions for her car, and she navigates through life with an independent spirit and a positive attitude.
Due to her condition, she had 18 surgeries by the age of 18, including three major operations on her back; nine ear drum reconstructions; and the removal of her gall bladder, adenoids, and tonsils. Despite these physical setbacks, she’s dedicated to staying in shape, and works out religiously.
“Since I’m about half the size of most people, I can only eat half as much food — one cookie for you is two cookies for me. So I have to be very careful about my diet,” she says. “I feel like if I’m very heavy, it’s one more thing working against me … one more thing that people can judge me on. Some little people are intimidated by going to the gym because the workout machines aren’t compatible, and due to my spinal fusion, I’m very limited. But I have to make the best of what I have.”
She continues, “As far as challenges, I admit there are issues, but it’s not like I can’t find my way around them. At Kroger, I might have to walk two aisles over to find someone to help me reach something. But I’m completely independent,” she says proudly.
She dreams of marrying and having children, and hopes to adopt someday.
“A lot of little people actually die due to pregnancy. Really, as far as I’m concerned,” she says, “it’s whatever God has planned.”
Set to graduate in 2017, she’ll climb the stairs to the stage the way she has done everything in life – with a bright smile and an huge sense of accomplishment. After all, Brittney Bowen may be small, but her dreams are as big as they come.