‘I like to prove people wrong’: Kobie Donovan’s refuses to let short stature get in the way of big dreams

It’s Saturday night, and the Donovan sisters are just like any other Aussie girls – makeup, hair, and ready to hit the town. There’s just one difference – the eldest, 23-year-old Kobie, has dwarfism.

Kobie much prefers her trainers to high heels. She’s a world record-holding athlete, a physical education teacher, and has represented Australia numerous times in the Paralympics.

“I like to prove people wrong,” she tells Sunday Night’s Melissa Doyle. “I like to just go out there and go, ‘I know I can do it, so I’m going to show you.’”

In a world built for people a lot taller than Kobie, people can be cruel.

“Most people [have] never met a dwarf person before, and I know it can be confronting that first time. If you’re staring, we do notice. The rudest thing is pulling out your phone to get a photo. We just want to live our life without eyes peering on us 24/7. You would never stare at someone in a wheelchair, you would never stare at someone with cerebral palsy, but why is it okay to stare at someone with dwarfism?”

Kobie is the captain of Team Australia – a group of 40 short-statured Australians preparing for the World Dwarf Games. Yet it’s not just Kobie’s height that makes sports challenging, with dwarfism often accompanied by other medical complications.

“Every condition is different,” Kobie explains. “For my condition, it’s an early onset of osteoarthritis. It’s not uncommon to hear people at 15 have hip replacements. They have bodies of a 90-year-old. I know a lot of people see me in the active sense, but I get home and I sit down [and] when I go to stand up my whole body stiffens up and I go into this waddle, barely moving, because that’s my arthritis setting in. I go to bed, wake up, I’m fine the next day. That’s just my body and I’ve learnt to live with that. There are so many extra things, short stature’s the easy part.”

Kobie was the first child of Craig and Wendy Donovan, and like all new parents, they loved her from the moment they laid eyes on her. “When I actually had her, we went, ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ Wendy recalls. “We just thought she looked normal.”

But the news that Kobie had dwarfism came as a shock. “I did walk outside and had a little meltdown for 20 minutes,” Wendy admits. “You’ve just had your first baby, you’re excited, everything’s happening – and then you’re told there’s something wrong. Craig and I had our moments, and then both looked at each other and went, ‘Okay, let’s go back to our baby.’”

Craig and Wendy took Kobie’s drawfism in their stride, and taught their daughter to grow into a strong competitor, fiercely claiming her space in sports.

“I love sport, there’s no doubt about it,” Kobie explains. “Like playing in a school touch team. I want to play, I’m not your best, but I’ll be your winger, I’ll play five minutes, I don’t care. I want to have a go. Or do the school cross country, they’re like, ‘Kobie it’s too far, you can’t do 3 kilometres.’ Let me walk part of it, jog part of it, and run part of it. I’m going to do it.”

That dedication has gotten Kobie all the way to the World Dwarf Games in Canada. “[It’s] such a special thing to wear the green and gold,” she tells Sunday Night. “To know that you deserved it, you worked for it, it’s mind-blowing. In a way, I thank my short stature because without it, I don’t think I would be an Australian representative.”

Craig and Wendy have travelled all the way to cheer on Kobie and the Aussie team. It’s the largest gathering of short-statured athletes in the world, with 500 competitors converging from 23 countries. Her parents are there to witness Kobie win two gold, three silver, and a bronze, helping Australia take home a record haul of 35 gold medals.

Still, Kobie already has her eye on the next challenge for her future. “It’s definitely finding that partner. It’s eventually settling down, potentially have children, a standard life. I just see it as anyone else’s life. It’s not different.”

Reporter: Melissa Doyle

Producer: Naima Lynch