Tom Archdeacon: Springboro athlete a Titan among little people

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Springboro resident Josh Babb heading to the Wold Dwarf Games in Canada

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

He is the BMOC.

Big Man on Campus.

That might be a surprise to some folks back in high school where he was deemed too small for most varsity sports and was the shortest guy on the Panthers indoor track and ultimate frisbee club teams.

But this week 18-year-old Josh Babb is something of the Yao Ming of the Little People at the World Dwarf Games on the University of Guelph campus in Ontario, Canada.

The recent Springboro High graduate not only will stand out because an unexpected reconfiguration of the vertebrae in his rare form of dwarfism allowed him to grow to 5 feet — a foot taller than the average adult with dwarfism according to the Little People of America — but because of the way he rises above the competition at these big-scale sporting events.

At the 2013 World Dwarf Games at Michigan State University, Josh — then 14 and new to international competition — turned in a Jim Thorpe-like performance, winning two gold medals and six silver.

His most memorable showing may have come in the soccer competition when he was switched from the U.S. team’s goalkeeper to a striker before the gold medal game against the more-seasoned unit from Great Britain.

Although the U.S. would lose 3-2, Josh scored both American goals.

After similar splashes at a couple of National Games, he has built enough of a reputation that other athletes are now drawn to him.

And so, in 2015, he formed his own team for Dwarf Athletic Association of America (DAAA) events.

“We call ourselves the Titans,” he said with a laugh. “It’s kinda funny. When you think of Titans, you think of really big. But the name sounded powerful, too, and … we like the shortness of it.

“Titans — it just stands out.”

His growing profile didn’t just lure some athletes from around the nation to his new team, but it caught the eye of two of the better-known dwarfs in America, Marty Klebba and Zach Roloff.

The 4-foot-6 Klebba is a regular in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. He plays Marty, one of Captain Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl crew.

As for the 4-foot-3 Roloff, he is a star of “Little People, Big World,” the reality TV show about his family.

Klebba and Roloff are also the team captains of The Statesmen, a veteran dwarf team from the West Coast. And since the Titans are young and don’t have a big enough roster yet to adequately compete at the World Games, Josh said, The Statesmen recruited him and two of his teammates to join them for the competition in Ontario.

While Klenna and Roloff have the bigger names, they know Josh has some titanic athletic talent.

Friday night Josh took part in the Opening Ceremonies for the Games, which this year are drawing over 400 athletes from 22 nations.

Today, starting with the preliminary rounds of the basketball tournament, Josh begins a full week of competition. He’ll compete in six sports: soccer, floor hockey, track and field, volleyball, powerlifting and basketball.

“The thing I’m probably looking forward to the most comes on Thursday,” he said. “That’s track and field. I’m running in four events and I’m really focused on the 100 meters.

“That’s why I ran indoor track at my school this winter. I wanted to train technically and get in better shape.

“I don’t want to speak before I actually run the race, but I do think I’ve got a shot at the world record. Right now it’s 14.02 seconds, but I’m on a pace to break it.

“In indoor track we just run 60 meters, but I’ve trained at 100 and three times my friend has timed me and I’ve got (well under) the record each time.”

Credits his parents

As he sat at the kitchen table in his family’s Springboro home the other day, Josh talked about his parents’ initial fears over his dwarfism:

“Before I was born, like any two average parents, they had no idea what dwarfism entailed. They weren’t sure if I even was gonna live. And then if I’d be able to play sports. If I was gonna be 2 feet tall, 4 feet or 5 feet. There were just a lot of unknowns.”

Josh’s parents once shared those feelings with me.

“When I was 20 weeks pregnant, we found out his arms and legs were measuring small,” said Lisa, his mom. “We don’t have any dwarfism in our family, so we really didn’t know anything about it. It was very devastating at first because you look at it as a loss of a dream you have for your child being able to do this or that.

“I remember one night my husband and I just sitting there sobbing.”

Larry, Josh’s dad, remembered the uncertainty: “When this first comes into your life, you have no idea what you’re headed for. You don’t have any idea what life is going to be like.”

While there are several forms of dwarfism — achondroplasia is the most common, occurring once in every 26,000 to 40,000 births — Josh’s diagnosis stumped doctors for years. At birth his vertebrae were flattened and misshapen, but then, on their own, they suddenly started to thicken and square up like they should.

“It was pretty amazing really,” Josh said. “When I was born my spine was just really messed up, but then it suddenly elongated and allowed me to start growing some.

“My parents brought me to see my geneticist (Wisconsin-based Dr. Richard Pauli) when I was real little and when he looked at the X-rays he said, ‘Why are you showing me these from an average child?’

“There’s still no name for my form of dwarfism. As far as they know, there are only three people in America diagnosed with it.”

As Josh began to grow, his parents’ expectations — turned positive early on thanks to the support of their family, their church and Dr. Pauli — began to expand, as well.

They became involved with the Little People of America organization and it was at a Michigan convention that they met a Detroit couple who had a daughter with dwarfism. They became like mentors for the Babbs.

Ironically, that daughter ended up going to the University of Dayton, where she served as a resident adviser in a coed dorm and became an occasional babysitter for Josh and his younger brother.

Josh credits his parents for instilling a positive attitude in him from the time he was young:

“I know it sounds cliché, but they gave me the mindset that I can do anything. So I grew up not seeing any of this as a disability. And I was never so small that I couldn’t do something. It was just I couldn’t do it as well sometimes.

“But I’ve got to thank my parents. They were like if you want to be able to keep up, if you want to excel, you’ve just got to put in the work and train and go for it.

“I had an outgoing personality so that helped and then I just went after what I wanted to do.”

He played drums and bass guitar at his Springboro church, was the freshman prince on the homecoming court in high school and especially immersed himself in sports.

Until four years ago he played alongside typically developing kids in the Springboro baseball leagues. And now he competes against the general populace in triathlons, the most recent at Deer Creek State Park last month.

“I’ve been blessed to be generally athletic and I’ve always been super competitive,” he said. “And I love to push boundaries, so sports is a natural.”

Big plans ahead

Josh also likes to travel.

Three years ago he toured several cities in Europe. This summer he and one of his friends, J R Conerty, a former Springboro High and Wittenberg University soccer player, took a road trip to California over spring break.

He rattled of their itinerary: Chicago, Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Crater Lake, Redwood National Park, San Francisco, Yosemite, the Pacific Coast Highway to L.A., various beaches, San Diego “for dinner with two of my dwarf buddies,” Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and back to Springboro.

“We went 6,895 miles in 12 days,” he said. “We split the driving. I just move the seat way up. I’ve never had to have any special hand controls or anything for driving.”

Sometimes they stayed with family of friends, but much of the time he said they slept in the back of Toyota Sequoia they drove.

Back home this summer he’s thrown himself into preparing for the Dwarf Games.

He’s worked out at the high school track and the soccer field and especially at Renegade Warehouse, a high-performance gym on Alex Bell Road frequented by area high school and college athletes.

He said he’s been going there regularly since January and his strenuous workouts have paid off.

He’s in better shape than he was at that eight-medal performance at the 2013 Games — he’s stronger, faster and has far more endurance — AND he’s 3 ½ inches taller!

He said he and his friend, Jared Green, a member of his Titans team from Wisconsin who stands 5-foot-1, will be two of the more towering dwarf athletes at the Games.

“We’re two of the tallest guys,” he said. “We’re definitely in the top 10 percent and that makes us kind of recognizable there.

“It’s kind of a strange feeling in a way. Back here I stand out because I’m small and there it’s because I’m bigger than most everybody else. And because of that my role changes.

“Playing basketball here with my friends, I’ m a guard who focuses on passing and ball movement. But there I’m a post player.

“And in indoor track here, my advantage might be out of the blocks because I’m so compact and can get out faster. But there, because my legs are longer than the other guys, my stride gives me an advantage.”

He said with the recognition comes added expectations, and he likes that, too:

“I worked hard and want to show what I can do.”

He said he’ll return from the Games on Aug. 13 and four days later he’ll move into his dorm at Ohio State, where he’ll be a freshman studying international business and German.

“I plan to play intramural soccer and I’ll keep building our Titans team,” he said. “And I’ll keep working out and training hard. I think I can keep getting better at Ohio State.”

In other words, nothing will change.

He plans to be a BMOC there, as well.

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