Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Washington state welder named outstanding disabled employee of 2009 by U.S. Navy, Dept. of Defense

From The Kitsap Sun in Washington state:

BANGOR, Wash. — Intermediate Maintenance Facility’s little person received a big award recently.

Pipe welder Bill Russell (pictured), who was born with a form of dwarfism, was named by the Navy and then the Department of Defense as the most outstanding disabled employee for 2009. He’ll travel to Washington, D.C., in October and December to collect the respective honors.

Russell’s disorder, called achondroplasia, is characterized by people with nearly normal-sized torsos but short arms and legs. Russell, who stands 4 feet tall and weighs 100 pounds, views his smallness as an opportunity, not an impediment.

“It’s a fair trade-off, that’s the way I’ve always looked at it,” said Russell, who for 22 years has welded Trident ballistic submarines on the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor waterfront. “I take care of the tight spots and let everybody else take care of the big stuff.”

Russell, 47, grew up in Lakebay and graduated from Peninsula High School. His dad was of average size, his mom little; his big brother a small person, his younger brother regular height.

His older brother passed away from complications associated with being a small person, which can include joint, back and neck problems. Russell hasn’t allowed ailments, including back surgery, to affect his job.

“I’ve known Bill for all these (22) years and I know he works extra hard to prove himself among his peers in a very, very difficult trade,” said welding superintendent Rick Mitchusson, who teamed with welder supervisor Mike Jacobs to nominate Russell.

Mitchusson is impressed that Russell finds ways to accomplish tasks instead of excuses to get out of them. The work ethic stems from Russell’s father, a machinist at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, who told him of a program for disabled workers. Russell got hired by the shipyard 28 years ago and became a maintenance oiler at Bangor eight months later.

Russell, who lives in Port Orchard with wife, Eileen, and two foster children, used to get grumpy with people who stared or commented about his stature. That wasn’t productive.

Now, “when I encounter prejudice because of my size, I don’t get upset,” he said. “I use it as motivation to push that much harder.”

The word “midget” isn’t appropriate, Russell said. “Small person” and “dwarf” are acceptable.

Russell has been active with Little People of America for 30 years and likes to travel in support of his work with the organization. He also enjoys woodworking and took up golf to keep his back limber after surgery.

He said the Discovery Channel TV series “Little People, Big World,” on which he made an appearance, has helped to bring awareness to dwarfism.