By DAVE GYMBURCH Sentinel staff writer

MEETING BIG CHALLENGES — Rome Free Academy senior Emily Mumpton, seen here by the main stairway at RFA, has overcome many physical and social obstacles associated with her dwarfism. She is in the top 25 percent of RFA’s Class of 2012, and is headed to SUNY Plattsburgh this fall. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

Born with a condition that limited her height to under 4 feet tall, Rome Free Academy senior Emily Mumpton used to be more self-conscious about her dwarfism.

But whereas at one time Mumpton did "not want people...helping me," now "I don’t mind asking for help anymore" if needed. She also is "willing to talk about it."

Mumpton says "I really don’t care that I’m different...I’m more accepting of it. I’m good with it." She notes that once people "get to know me," they don’t notice "a difference any more."

This outlook has helped Mumpton, who is 3 feet 10 inches tall, work through various physical and social challenges as she prepares to graduate from RFA on June 23. Guidance counselors consider her one of the most inspirational students in the Class of 2012.

Mumpton is ranked in the top 25 percent academically among 374 class members, and has been accepted at SUNY Plattsburgh where she will major in English literature. She aims to become a journalist, a publisher, or an English teacher. She is the website editor of the RFA Knight Times student newspaper, and is on the yearbook staff. She began working as a page at Jervis Library in March, planning to continue this summer. She has a driver’s license, with the help of pedal extender devices.

Mumpton is "an outstanding senior who has overcome the obstacles of dwarfism," including challenges "on a daily basis...." said RFA guidance counselor Debbie Daskiewich. She anticipates Mumpton "will do very well at Plattsburgh this fall," adding "she advocates well for herself and I can’t foresee anything getting in the way of success."

Mumpton, 18, is the daughter of Elizabeth Forbes, 8128 Buena Vista Drive, and James Kendall Mumpton, 1204 N. Madison St. Her older sister, Katherine, is a student at Hartwick College. Mumpton says she has no relatives with her condition, called Achondroplasia dwarfism; a genetic disorder of bone growth, it is the most common cause of short stature including disproportionately short limbs, according to online data.

Mumpton says she underwent several related medical procedures when younger, including a shunt to relieve spinal fluid buildup; decompression surgery to remove her first vertebra; and surgery for a "lazy eye" condition. She began noticing her smaller height compared to other children as a pre-K student. She has faced obstacles throughout her school years.

"I’ve been made fun of...It’s kind of hard...a little person in a big world...Things aren’t made for my height," Mumpton commented. In 10th grade, for instance, a "kid with a cell phone decided to take a picture of me" while she was at Jervis Library, and "I tried to ignore it...He kind of just ran" after she looked over at him.

In social situations, "it’s kind of weird how someone looks down on you" literally, she said. "Once in a while," people will point out "I’m short, I’m different," but "most of the time I ignore it...I don’t see it as a difference...until someone points it out."

Situations have been "sometimes...a little tricky" when "people asked me to go do something" and "I couldn’t do it because of my stature," Mumpton remarked. For example, during an 8th grade trip to an amusement park, "my friends wanted me to go on a roller-coaster ride" but she could not go.

She cannot participate in phys ed class activities because if she were struck in the head such as by a ball, it could pose issues due to her medical shunt. She also is not supposed to lift more than 10 pounds because her limbs can pop out of joint easily.

Mumpton said her condition has not hindered her schoolwork. She has taken honors level, Advanced Placement and many dual credit courses at RFA, said Daskiewich. Mumpton said her AP literature teacher, John Smales, "inspired me to go into English lit" in college, praising his teaching approach.

Her mother has been "really supportive," said Mumpton, adding that when "I’m having a bad day...She makes me feel better about it." She also does "not treat me any differently" in such ways as household chores; for example, their house has "tons of stools around" so that Emily cannot avoid laundry duty.

Mumpton also has traveled with her mother to Little People of America conventions at locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as New York, where "it’s nice to talk" to people with similar experiences. She knows of one or two adults in the Rome area who have dwarfism, but does not know of any near her age locally.

Mumpton hopes to return to RFA on one of her college breaks to speak to students "about being different and learning to embrace who you are," said Daskiewich. She said Mumpton can "hopefully inspire others to have the courage to pursue their dreams and strive to overcome their obstacles."

Part of Mumpton’s message will be, "it’s okay to be different," and "people out there who put you down" are "insecure about themselves." The key, says Mumpton, is "what you think of yourself."