Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lessons from Alexander Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky....

Hello everyone,

For those who don’t know me, I am a very passionate hockey fan. Growing up as a person who stutters, high school was an absolute nightmare for me in so many ways. I wouldn’t want to relive those days in any manner, yet one part of me does feel for the high school students of today: The social jungle is now more intense than it ever was. When I was in high school, the most guys had to worry about (at least the so-called ‘cool ones’) was wondering if they’d lose their virginity at the senior prom. Now there’s online bullying, and violence. It’s hard enough to deal with the freshman-to-senior years. As a person who stutters, it was the equivalent of solitary confinement.

Saturday nights for many students were spent either working or hanging out in the teen clubs. For me, you’d find me watching a hockey game. I am a big New Jersey Devils fan, but in the days before the Prudential Center got built, it was too far of a drive, so I’d go to the Nassau Coliseum to watch Islanders games. But I wasn’t so caught up in who scored and in what style, I saw myself a student of the game. I loved watching the intricacies of chemistry develop, and watching lesser-skilled players getting the most out of what abilities they had. And those who had no abilities could contribute in another way.

When I got The Hockey News 2008-09 yearbook, there was a cover story on Alexander Ovechkin. This naturally piqued my interest, because I am a huge fan of his. OK, I used to live in Maryland, so I’m partial to the Capitals somewhat. The Capitals were rewarded for finishing dead last a few years ago, and took him with the first overall pick. Not only he has turned the District of Columbia into Hockeytown USA, but he’s rubbed off on casual fans as well as die-hards with his exuberance, joy for life. There was one quote that caught my attention, and please let me share it with you:

“Have fun and no speed limits.”

For a long time, I was my own prisoner living in confinement, surrounded by vocal chains that trapped my larynx. I had gone through maybe seven speech therapists in five years, learning so many different techniques. If I began to block on a sentence, I’d reverse my way of thinking and use a different form of fluency, and that only led to more blocking, which would be severe. I felt like I was setting myself up for failure. My self-esteem was basically nonexistent.

We all have our days when we feel like the animated character who walks around with the raincloud over his head. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I don’t apologize for it one bit. But I can say this emphatically-if you set speed limits, and you are negative all the time, you’ll be speeding-in the absolute wrong direction.

It took me thirty years to learn that lesson. Hey, some might say better late than never. I know some people who still are the same person and they’re never going to change. I’m not writing this to pass judgment on people. What I believe, and know, is that I’m going to have fun. I don’t care how long it takes me to get a sentence out. I’m not going to put speed limits on myself. Life isn’t a race. Life isn’t about winning because you have the most toys.

Life is about DOING. It’s about BEING. It’s about giving of yourself and not expecting anything in return. It’s about reaching out to help others and giving back. That’s why I joined the National Stuttering Association. I didn’t join for personal glory or recognition. And you know what? I can say that joining the NSA was the best decision of my life. For once, I took a chance on myself.

Wayne Gretzky once had a brilliant quote: “100 percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.”

Take a lesson from Alexander Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky…I think they know what they are talking about.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters.

Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

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