Tristan Willmott is not your typical high school basketball standout. At 3’5″, it’s not the sophomore’s ball-handling skills that make him sparkle, it’s his height.
“When I saw Tristan come in, I thought he was somebody’s little brother,” said Andrew Jones, junior varsity basketball coach at Hillsboro-Deering High School in Hillsboro, New Hampshire.
Tristan, 15, has a rare genetic disorder called Mulibrey nanism, a form of dwarfism that impedes growth and affects the muscles, liver, brain and eyes.
Tristan has struggled with the condition since birth. But doctors didn’t come up with a diagnosis until he was about 5 years old.
“They knew right off he was small with obviously severe failure to thrive,” said his mother, Jessie Willmott.
Early on, complications from the disorder became debilitating. Tristan spent long stints in the hospital undergoing multiple operations, including two open-heart surgeries. Soon after, Tristan’s body began to retain a large amount of fluid. Doctors prepared his mother for the worst.
“They sat me down and said I need to look at quality of life versus quantity,” she said.
A magical trip to Disney
At one point, Tristan went to Walt Disney World through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and for some reason, his health seemed to take a turn for the better.
“He really hasn’t been sick since,” Tristan’s mother said. “I don’t know what happened. He still has all of those conditions, but it’s not really affecting him so much.”
No one could have imagined that 10 years later, Tristan would not only be thriving but shooting hoops on his high school basketball team.
A little help from his friends
Through the encouragement of Hillsboro-Deering High School Athletic Director Jay C. Wood and friends, Tristan tried out. He wasn’t the least bit intimidated.
“I knew everyone was taller than me. I was pretty sure that when they got in my face, I wouldn’t make my points. But I got used to dribbling the ball and making points,” said Tristan.
“I would never give up. I would come out on the court strong,” he added.
Tristan credits his mom for his grit.
“She inspires me a lot,” he said. “She said if I’d get in any athletics, never give up. Keep going and try hard.”