As a partner in the Rimrock Subaru and Rimrock Kia auto dealerships, Ernie Lee is a busy man.
But the Billings resident is also is busy in another pursuit, as a board member and active participant in the Dwarf Athletic Association of America. For the past four years he has worked on organizing the 2013 World Dwarf Games.
That work will culminate Aug. 3-10 with a week of athletic competitions that will bring nearly 500 participants from 17 countries to Michigan State University in Lansing, Mich.
Lee, 44, will wear a couple of hats at the games.
He will compete in both air pistol and boccia, a sport similar to lawn bowling. More important, he will serve as the assistant Chef de Mission for the U.S. team of 250 competitors.
“I am assisting the head of Team USA to make sure athletes appear at their events and that team members cooperate with the rules and guidelines so that we can have an excellent competition,” Lee said Thursday.
The National and World Dwarf Games are connected to the Paralympics, Lee said. The games are open to young children up through seniors of all skill levels with skeletal dysplasia, the medical term for dwarfism.
“There are people that range in height from 28 inches tall to people roughly 4 feet, 10 inches and they have different needs,” Lee said.
Some people can only be mobile with the use of a scooter or a wheelchair and others, like Lee, are fully mobile. Athletes are grouped in categories depending on their size, mobility and skill level, so that, as Lee puts it, they are “eye to eye and shoulder to shoulder.”
Lee competed for the first time in the DAAA games in 1990. His children with wife Kelly — Bobby, 20; Morgan, 14, and Chae, 10 — also compete.
“It helps them with their self-confidence,” Lee said.
They have also developed friendships that last year-round. At an adult level, Lee also finds the games a great experience.
“Through this I’ve made a lot of really great friends,” he said. “We get to spend a week together and push ourselves to new levels.”
The World Games rotate to different countries, and with the event this year in the U.S., it is Lee’s first time taking part in the international event. Athletes will be traveling from as far away as Australia, Croatia, India, Germany, Sweden, Great Britain and Mexico.
The World Games include some sports that are not part of the National Games, including floor hockey, weight lifting, tennis and shooting sports.
“Those will all be new experiences for our athletes,” Lee said.
Normally, the National Games are run in conjunction with the Little People of America's national convention. Lee just finished a long tenure as a board member of that organization.
This year the two events are being held at different times to avoid distractions that might come with the convention, he said. He admits that with all the work organizing the World Games, he hasn’t been able to practice for his events as much as he’d like.
Though he and his family often play boccia, Lee said he’s only played a couple of times in the past year. And the last time he trained for the air pistol event was probably eight months ago.
“More of what I’m doing is assisting the head of Team USA, and as host, we want to make sure that we’re putting forward our best effort,” Lee said. “And that is my true priority.”
But he does plan to indulge in one other activity while he’s there. Lee expects to go bass fishing with a friend.
“And I probably have more practice there,” he said.