'Whatever difference we have on the outside, we're the same on the inside'

Amy Roloff, star of 'Little People, Big World' speaks at Shepherd University

February 23, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Amy Roloff, reality TV star and soccer mom, speaks Wednesday at Shepherd University.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Amy Roloff, a 4-foot-2-inch dynamo, TV star and soccer mom, stood on a low stage and spoke at eye level to 300 people Wednesday morning at Shepherd University.

"It's different growing up with a disability," she said. "I've seen more jean brand names than faces."

Roloff, best known for her family-based reality TV show, "Little People, Big World," was invited to speak in conjunction with National Recreational Sports & Fitness Day. The lecture was sponsored by Shepherd University Intramurals, intramurals coordinator Keith A. Worrell Jr. said.

Tuesday's snowstorm forced the lecture to be moved to Wednesday.

"Amy was very understanding, very gracious about the change," Worrell said.

"It's typical of what I've faced all my life," said Roloff, who walked the mile from the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center to campus.

In social settings, average-size people can see and talk to each other, Roloff said.

"It's hard for little people and people in wheelchairs to join in their conversation," she said.

Roloff said while growing up she saw everyone as "cookie cutter people," all made with sugar.

"I was peanut butter with nuts, and I wanted to be on that platter," she said.

Roloff said she spent her younger years worrying about her image, saying the right things, trying to blend in.

"Can little people blend in? Come on," she said. "I could not meet that imaginary standard.

"I could never imagine I'd be here speaking today," she said.

The size of a child does not indicate the mind of a child, Roloff said. As a child, she wished she were taller.

"Life is easier when you're big," she said

Roloff said she had to overcome a negative attitude and people's perceptions of her.

"When you're different and you react in a negative way, then they perceive you to be negative," she said. "I was amazed at people's attitudes, what they do, how mean, hateful and hurtful they are because some come in a different package.

"I wanted an opportunity to be in the game of life," she said.

Her parents, two older sisters and younger brother didn't pamper her, Roloff said.

"They were simple, practical Midwestern people," she said. "I had to manage on my own."

Roloff learned to play the clarinet, holding the instrument in an unorthodox position so her arms could reach the keys. She couldn't play and march in parades at the same time, so she faked it by marching only, she said.

"I had to march double time because of my short legs," she said.

Roloff learned to play sports and competed in the Dwarf Athletic Association of America events. She also became a soccer coach.

Roloff and her husband, Matt, who also is a little person, have four children, including a set of fraternal twin boys. Zachary is a little person, and Jeremy is average height.

Their family home is a pumpkin farm in Oregon that became the stage for their show on the TLC network that lasted six seasons and ended in December.

Camera crews followed family members during their everyday lives.

"Whatever difference we have on the outside, we're the same on the inside," Roloff said. "We raise our families, fight and yell just like any family."

Dozens of audience members raised hands Wednesday when Roloff asked if they watched the show.

Her interest and participation in sports, competing against those with similar capabilities, taught her to push beyond her own boundaries, she said.

She sees the same qualities in her son, Zachary. Because of his size, "he had to know every position to prove that he was capable of being on the team," she said.

To play against average-sized players, he had to "play harder, run faster and have more endurance," she said.

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