Greensburg's 'Mini Hulk' shines in TLC's 'My Little Life'
For Vince Brasco, challenges are just opportunities in disguise.
The 25-year-old Greensburg man was born with dwarfism and has some accompanying health issues, but he doesn't let that get in the way of anything he wants to do.
He's a bodybuilder, an animal shelter volunteer and a volunteer firefighter, and he's working on becoming a motivational speaker.
He's also featured in the current season of TLC's “My Little Life,” a six-episode series currently airing at 10 p.m. Tuesdays.
“Vince doesn't let anything hold him back,” says Dave Price, captain of Greensburg Hose Company 3, where Brasco serves. “If Vince dreams it, Vince does it.”
Brasco says the show's producers approached him in late 2016 about doing the show, which TLC says follows “five young little people from across the country as they work to overcome the struggles of a world made for average-sized people — not to mention facing the usual coming-of-age challenges like balancing family, friends, work and the search for love.”
“I have a very big social media following with Instagram and Facebook,” Brasco says. “They saw how many followers I have, and they reached out. I got an email from one of the producers, and we just started talking.”
The show was originally conceived as a dating show, he says.
“I wasn't so fond of that, but I was like, for the experience and the exposure, OK,” he says. “Then we started changing things up the way I liked it, like with bodybuilding, firefighting, stuff like that. It was so much better once they found out that's the kind of story I wanted to portray.
“I'll be honest, some of the filming with me wasn't good, just because they were trying to portray things that weren't there. I'm not the kind of person that likes to be used for entertainment purposes, and I feel like that's what they were trying to do.”
A busy schedule
So far, though, he says he's happy with his story line in the finished episodes. And, he hopes the show will be picked up for a second season.
In the meantime, he'll keep juggling everything in his busy schedule. He's established a company called Official Mini Hulk and is working on gaining sponsorships related to his competitive bodybuilding and in scheduling motivational speaking dates. A clothing line is in the works in partnership with Traxler Printing in Columbus, Ohio.
He lives with his parents, Lisa and Bill Brasco, and has a sister, Adele, a senior at Slippery Rock University. They're all average-sized people.
When he's not working at Things Remembered in Westmoreland Mall, working out at LA Fitness in Hempfield or answering fire calls, he's often working — or playing — with the dogs at the Animal Friends of Westmoreland shelter in Youngwood.
He says he has a heart for abandoned animals and that empathy gives him a knack for working with aggressive dogs.
“They could have had a horrible past and they only know how to be mean, but they want to be loved, so you have to teach them how to change,” he says.
He also embraces the dangers associated with firefighting.
Flirting with danger
“I'm one who likes to do a lot of dangerous things, just because you only get one life, so why live in fear? That's the way I look at it,” he says. “I'm going to be 26, I've had dwarfism my whole life. God made me this way, so it's like, do what you can.”
His size — 4-feet-2-inches and 97 pounds (and the ability to bench press 315 pounds) — can actually be an advantage in a crisis: “With (vehicle) accidents, sometimes I can get into spaces where others can't. Same thing with house fires — I'll get into little areas that others can't.”
“Vince has had I don't know how many surgeries and endured more pain than anybody I know,” Price says. “Somebody his size you'd think would have limitations, but for his size and strength and ability, he does everything we ask of him.”
Those surgeries started when Brasco was an infant and have included a shunt to drain fluid from his brain, a hernia repair, tubes in his ears, surgeries on both knees and back surgery.
Every day is a gift
Bodybuilding and firefighting started around 2007. He knew dwarfism would continue to pose physical challenges, so he wanted to get himself in shape, but he also wanted to provide inspiration for other little people.
“It was really making me sad on social media, how little people were being portrayed. And how they care about their bodies. With little people, the real problem is weight gain. If you don't work on your diet or work out, you're going to have weight gain,” he says. “If that happens with little people, it causes a lot of heart problems. And it makes it very hard for them to move around. But I believe it's all preventable if you take care of yourself.”
A strict diet and workout regimen isn't a cure-all, he admits.
“Every day isn't easy, but every day is a gift, and there were times when I was taking that for granted,” he says. “(After the back surgery), one of my close friends said, ‘Why don't you go volunteer?' And the day when I started volunteering, that's when everything changed.
“Animal Friends really changed the way I look at things. I became more positive, more open to helping people. Animals need me more than I need them, but some days, I need them more than they need me.”
Don't give up
He says he thinks anyone's life can be improved by finding a cause. That's part of the reason he signed on to “My Little Life.”
“What I hoped to do with this whole show, and you'll see that in a couple of the episodes, I plan to inspire others in that, if you have a dream, don't let your size, don't let your weight, your ethnicity, stop you,” he says. “Too many people in society are like, this is too hard. I can't do this, I'm going to give up. Why give up? If it's your passion, just do it.”
Candy Valentino, founder and board president of Animal Friends, is glad that Brasco found a passion at the shelter.
“I'm always surprised to find that the people who go through the most in their life are typically also the ones who give the most back. Vince is no exception,” she says. “He is so passionate about being involved. He has an incredible heart and has been such a huge help with the animals at the shelter.”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @shirley_trib.