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VOICES

I don’t want to 'lose' my stutter – I want to be someone who accomplishes great things, and also stutters

Stuttering is unlike anything else. There is no absolute cure, but learning to be confident despite it can help us reach our full potential.

TIGER WOODS RECENTLY sent a heartfelt letter to a young teenage boy who was being bullied because he stutters. The letter went viral, and because Tiger himself had stuttered when he was young, the words were even more pertinent.

Over the past few days I have watched how the letter has been praised across the world’s media, and it is wonderful to see the reaction. The story of young Dillon is one that so many of us will be able to relate to, although the lengths he went to in order to escape the bullying may only resonate with a few. According to his mother, Dillon felt lonely, and when jeered because of his stutter, he felt he had nowhere else to turn, and so attempted to take his own life.

I’ve said several times that I believe stuttering to be one of the most personal struggles there is, mainly because communicating is an obvious problem, but also because of the huge psychological factors involved. It is lonely when you feel you have no voice, it frustrates you every time you part your lips, and in the end it often seems like giving up is a real option.

I have found a role model in Sophie Gustafson

The letter to Dillon came about after Sophie Gustafson, who is a professional golfer and someone who stutters, shared Dillon’s story with journalist and friend Ron Sirak of Golf Digest. Gustafson had been mentoring Dillon, and she received messages from his mother after he attempted take his own life. Sirak has known Gustafson for several years, and once she shared Dillon’s story with him he published what could be seen as a call to arms in an attempt to give Dillon something to look forward to.

In his article Sirak wrote, “I’m very proud of Sophie, and very grateful that she shared this story with me. Golf cannot change the world, but golfers can. Bullying is a serious problem. Join Sophie and me in shouting with one united, clear voice that we will not tolerate our children being treated that way.”

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Image via @ronsirak

Dillon’s love of golf and the fact he was a fan of Tiger Woods quickly saw the Woods camp contact Sirak to request Dillon’s address. In the following days it emerged that Tiger had penned the supportive letter, and in the words of Gustafson, Dillon was “ecstatic”.

I had not heard of Sophie Gustafson before this story hit the headlines. Since then I felt compelled to uncover who this shining light of support was, and I have been simply blown away by her.

Uploaded by soffan73

For so long, I have been searching for a role model. In all my time writing this blog, and long before that, celebrities who have overcome their stutter have been the ones who have been used to show others how they can live their life, regardless of their issues with speaking. For me, these celebrities have never been role models because I have never heard them stutter. That may sound strange, but I simply felt no connection to them. The fact that many famous people have stuttered is not surprising, many non-famous people have stuttered too, but as we know, only five per-cent of those who stutter as children will stutter into adulthood.

I once wished my stutter would go away, but I don’t feel that way anymore

Many of the celebrities, and I don’t need to name them, may well have stuttered when they were young, but what about now? What about today on front of the cameras on our television and movie screens? For me, these people hide their stutter, or have, in their own words, overcome their stutter, so how can those who have not overcome it see them as role models?

And what about those of us who don’t want to overcome it, but would rather learn to live with it, to embrace it, and show the world that our stutter is but one small part of the wonderful and capable people we are? I want to make it clear that I am not attacking those who have overcome their stutter, but as role models go, I find Sophie Gustafson to be the first role model for me.

I feel an immediate connection to her, because when speaks I see myself in her. I see so many of the people I know that stutter in her, and, most of all, I feel proud of her. That’s because she does not hide her stutter. It’s there, but she gets on with life, and this is the kind of role model I wish I had had when I was young.

I once wished my stutter would go away. I hated it, and I wasn’t too fond of myself either, if I’m honest. I’d never met anyone else who had stuttered. I’d watched movies that contained actors who had stuttered, but they were fluent on screen. Then, when I was at my lowest point, I began a therapy course that would eventually lead me to where I am today. There were no magic tricks, no gimmicks, and certainly no mention of overcoming my stutter, but more learning to accept it, and learning that fighting to hide it was not the long-term solution.

Reaching our full potential 

In the last few days, having read up on Sophie Gustafson, I have come to the realisation that, at least for me, role models should be people we can see ourselves in. Stuttering is unlike anything else. There is no absolute cure, it does not exist, but learning to live with it, and being confident enough to do what we want to do despite it, can offer us a real chance of reaching our full potential.

In 2012 Sophie Gustafson received the prestigious Ben Hogan Award from the Golf Writers Association of America. For her acceptance speech she pre-recorded her message, and even made light of her stutter before she explained how she was surprised to see so many had been inspired by a previous interview she had done. She said, “If I can help get the word out about stuttering then that’s what I should strive to do”.

Growing up I was lucky never to be teased, but I know a lot of kids with speech impediments get teased every day. I believe having a role model out there who stutters would be a great help. When reporters ask me what advice I have for people who stutter I tell them, ‘Do what you want to do. Granted, phone salesman may not be the job for you, but go out and pursue your passion. Don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do.

For so long I have watched countless programmes on television about stuttering that always have an end goal, at which point the person is said to have broken through some kind of speech barrier. This may well be the case, but the ultimate goal always seems to be eradicating the stutter. I don’t like this, if I’m being honest. I find it to be a simplistic approach to what is such a complicated issue.

Personally, I could stand up in front of 5,000 people and deliver what I would regard as being a good speech. Large audiences actually fuel my ego! But in all seriousness, I don’t have an end goal that includes not stuttering. Moreover, I don’t want to be someone who used to stutter – I want to be someone who accomplishes great things, and also stutters. For this reason, people like Sophie Gustafson are the most valuable role models we in the stuttering community have, or at least that is my opinion. So let us champion those who are achieving great things while also stuttering because, in the end, what’s so bad about not being afraid to stutter?

Simon Walsh is a sports journalist. He blogs at Diary of a Stutterer

Stuttering is unforgiving – it never rests – but despite it I’ve found my true voice

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