‘A DREAM come true’ – a competitive youngster from Rugby is celebrating after bringing home six medals from an international sporting event.
Samuel Gray, 12, came home with a gold, four silvers and one bronze after representing Team GB at the World Dwarf Games 2023 in the German city of Cologne.
The Houlton School pupil was delighted to win gold as a member of the British relay team for the 12-15-year-olds category.
But his favourite events were the team sports, playing for the silver-winning Team GB football and basketball teams.
Samuel held his nerve under great pressure to score in the penalty shoot out for the basketball, and was a key striker for the football team – but both narrowly missed out to the USA.
He also came second among 12 athletes in the 60 metres running event, won silver in a throwing event, and bronze in the 40 metres.
Over 500 athletes from 28 countries travelled to Cologne to compete in the tournament, the biggest international sporting event for people with restricted growth conditions.
Samuel’s proud mum Kristina described the event as ‘incredible’.
She said: “The sporting talent was phenomenal and it was amazing to watch Samuel compete against his peers.
“He has absolutely loved competing. It has been like a dream come true to represent team GB.
“The environment was amazing for Samuel, he felt very much at home. He did incredibly well to even get one medal as the competition was a very high standard. We are very proud of him.”
Describing him as ‘highly competitive and sociable’, Kristina says Samuel has natural sporting talent – and a particular fondness for badminton.
“It is very hard for him to compete at school because of his disability,” she said. “So this event gave him a great chance to flourish on an even playing field.
“However in badminton, he can compete against peers at school who are average height.
“He was disappointed to not win a badminton medal at the games. He was the youngest in his category and it was the day after the football, so his legs were very sore.”
However, she said it was particularly special to see Samuel connect with so many people who understand what it is like to walk in his shoes.
She said: “He deals with a lot every day with his achondroplasia and it is truly hard for us to know what it feels like.
“So watching him flourish was very special. He was free to be himself without judgement and prejudice, that was an amazing experience for him.
“He has made friends for life who understand some of the challenges he faces. He also felt like no one was staring at him or judging him.
“Sport and friendship are a powerful combination. All in all, it was an amazing and life-changing experience.”
Many athletes from the World Dwarf Games go on to compete at the Paralympics – something Samuel hopes to achieve, inspired by his badminton heroes Jack Shephard and Krysten Coombs who have the same condition as him.
In the meantime, he is looking forward to competing in the National Games in Birmingham next year, and is already starting to save for the next World Games in Australia in 2027.