You may have spotted him on St. Patrick’s Day at a doorway, his arms wide, smiling and greeting visitors to a Lancaster city bar crawl/fundraiser.
Though small in stature, he couldn’t be overlooked. In a Kelly green leprechaun costume, his personality was off-the-charts as he hammed it up with patrons of the pub.
When not portraying a diminutive holiday icon, he is tossing much bigger guys against the ropes in a wrestling match or working from the cab of a retrofitted heavy machine.
Nick Yoder, 26, is just 4-feet, 3-inches tall, but his character and aspirations are immense. Nothing about Yoder’s life is undersized. Even his tattoos, which cover both arms, are considerable, depicting his family crest and a cross in chains that signify hard times and remembrance of loved ones.
To begin with, the Denver man works a day job most would consider atypical for someone whose blond mohawk just clears the top of the diner counter. He’s a heavy equipment operator for Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. of State College, traveling to job sites and sitting high above the ground to move earth. A heavy equipment-highway construction graduate of Lancaster County Career & Technology Center, he had a job with Lancaster’s H.L. Wiker and Sons before high school ended. His employers pay to alter machinery so he can do his job.
Out of the heavy machine cab, Yoder dons a costume and portrays wee characters, always with the goal of making people laugh, and takes on the persona of Shovelhead Chuck, a professional midget wrestler. Born with a form of dwarfism, he prefers the term midget when referring to his size.
“Little person sounds childish and demeaning,” he says.
Matthew Eberly, Yoder’s friend since they were 5, says his buddy has always been lighthearted and is never afraid to attempt something new. “As kids, we didn’t ask (about his height). We figured he would talk when he was ready to talk,” says Eberly, of Ephrata. “There were distinct signs. We were getting taller and Nick was staying the same size.”
But in all the years the two have been friends, Eberly has never heard Yoder complain. “He has never said he wishes he were taller.”
The two still get together about every other week; they spend a lot of time reminiscing, Eberly says, adding that “it’s good to have a person like Nick as a friend — someone who was dealt from a different deck of cards. He gives a different point of view. Helps you put things into perspective when things get rough.”
In high school, Yoder was a defensive lineman for Cocalico High School. Typical of his playful personality, he helped other players play tricks on the coaches. “This one time,” he says, “another player put me in his football bag and carried me into the coach’s office. He had the coach come over to check on something, and I popped out.” He laughs, remembering the reaction.
Amusement is of utmost importance to Yoder. “I always wanted to be a stand-up comedian,” he says, and, before that, he wanted to join the military, but their height limit is 4-feet, 10-inches. “You’d think they’d want short people in the subs,” he says, joking.
With humor in mind, Yoder responded to a Craigslist notice asking for reality show actors. Through that, he was introduced to a wrestling coach and soon took on the name of Shovelhead Chuck. He began training with The Wolfman of York, who chose not to use his real name.
“He was a natural,” says The Wolfman, part-owner of Susquehanna Wrestling. “Right from the beginning, he was good at all he did.” Though he’s trained 30 to 40 guys, The Wolfman never worked with someone Yoder’s height, noting that Shovelhead wrestles average-sized guys.
“He has good stage presence,” The Wolfman says. “He has a pizzazz to capture the audience.” Yoder wrestles every third Saturday at shows in Columbia and Seven Valleys, among other places.
His mom dislikes the idea of wrestling as much as when her son played football, but she knows he needs to follow his heart. “One thing that I have admired is I have never heard him say ‘I can’t’,” mom Juanita Herber says. And, if kids picked on him, his mom says, he never told her about it. “He would actually come home upset when other kids were picked on.”
When Herber was pregnant, she says the doctors were concerned about her baby’s heartbeat, so they conducted ultrasounds. In addition to checking his heart, however, the doctors seemed oddly interested in the length of her little one’s arms and legs. “He was 18 inches when he was born,” Yoder’s mother says, which is not far from average length. But, by the time he was 2, she recalls, he was only the size of a 9-month-old.
Though the rest of his family is between 5- and 6-feet tall, she was told Yoder would not grow much past 4 feet. But, she says, “Not too long ago, he told me he wouldn’t want to be a regular-sized person. He said he has so much fun, as is.”
Yoder says his dad spent a lot of time toughening him up, as a kid. “He told me to use my words, not my fists,” he says. “If they picked on me, I picked on them.” Even today, if he hears comments as he walks down the street, he’s got some ready-made and well-practiced comebacks that have gotten wittier over the years. “I hear the same lines over and over,” he says.
When Yoder was around 3, the doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said his body and his head would grow, but not his legs, hands or feet. “They said if he makes it to 4-foot-6, they’d be amazed,” says his father, Nicholas Yoder, who quickly added that it never stopped his son from being all he could be.
“I tried to encourage him in everything he did,” says his father. “When he was 14, he helped a neighbor clean cattle trucks. He learned how to back tractor-trailers into the wash bay. He built up his confidence.”
“He’s always been into everything big,” adds his mom. “Big trucks. Big vehicles. I think he wanted to make a statement, to prove to himself that he can do what anyone else can do.”
Yoder says he always wanted to ride a motorcycle so he bought a small Kikker 5150, cut down the frame and customized it. He also rides an ‘84 Harley Davidson Softail that he had converted into a three-wheeler. And before his present car, Yoder had a Ford F350 pickup.
His vehicles are big right along with is ambitions, and the thought of acting is not far from his thoughts. “It would be cool and fun to do TV and movies,” he says, mentioning that, so far, he has wrestled with Hulk Hogan’s Micro Championship Wrestling, appeared as a character commentator for “a full-on midget match” for WWE pay-per-view and appeared for a few seconds in “Long Hauls and Close Calls,” a Hank Williams III video.
“If I put my mind to something, it’s going to get accomplished,” he says.