IWC BRAND AMBASSADOR AND PROFESSIONAL GOLFER TAKES SWINGS AT HOLE-IN-ONE CHALLENGE
1% of the world’s population – that’s 70 million people – are said to be stutterers. A number largely underestimated, according to Dr. Courtney Byrd, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Founding Director of the new Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research. The Center is part of the Arthur Blank Family Foundation under the chairmanship of Arthur Blank, co-founder of the home improvement retailer The Home Depot.
To raise awareness for individuals with a stutter, IWC brand ambassador and professional golfer Christiaan Bezuidenhout is supporting a charity golf event organized by the Arthur M. Blank Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia, as part of its “DREAM.SPEAK.LIVE” initiative. On 24 October, 2022, between 90 and 105 golf players including CEOs and high-level executives from the Atlanta region will be participating in IWC’s “Hole-In-One” challenge on hole #3. IWC has donated one of its iconic Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Ref. IW503302 in 18K 5N gold case to the foundation as prize for the winner of the challenge.
THE JOURNAL spoke with Dr. Courtney Byrd and Christiaan Bezuidenhout about the severe challenges faced by people with a stutter, and how a novel approach can provide a sense of freedom and new perspective toward one’s own speech.
JUST THE NATURAL WAY TO TALK
Dr. Byrd, let me start with a rather straightforward question that is based on one of your latest and very moving articles: Why is it ok to stutter?
Byrd: It is the natural way for a lot of people around the world to talk. It is the same as saying that it’s ok to speak a different language. A 12-year-old boy once said to me: “Whenever I talk, I stutter. Maybe I should just not talk at all.” This remark really changed my perspective.
I learned from my first experience working with a young boy who stuttered decades ago that therapy was causing more harm rather than helping. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how much he practiced, he still stuttered. That is because stuttering is the natural way that he talks. I have since dedicated my life to developing the CARE approach, where we focus on Communication, Advocacy, Resiliency, and Education, all in an effort to ensure no one has to suffer like this young boy, and like Christiaan and so many people who stutter worldwide have.
What approach do you advocate?
Byrd: Our perspective at the Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research is supported by decades of research. We understand that this is the natural way that you talk. You and society should be okay with it! We empower children to speak confidently, build their resiliency, and push back against that fluency conformity and the pressure to be like everyone else. You can be the most educated person in the room and still stutter. And through that you can teach the world how to make it a better place for other people who stutter.
We don’t have a goal within our programming for fluency. Paradoxically, for many people who come to our program they leave stuttering even more. And that’s because they’re no longer hiding it, no longer avoiding it, no longer shorten what they say. But if you ask them, they’ll tell you that they’re stuttering less. Because in their mind, they are. Because they’re speaking freely, they’re not trying to hide it and acting against it. They’re just talking openly. And that provides a sense of freedom and perspective about their own speech, that is, what it should be: this is just how I talk.
I know from my own experience that stuttering can affect your confidence and hold you back, it can affect your ability to mix with other kids; it can be very isolating and that’s sad.
DREAM. SPEAK. LIVE.
Mr. Bezuidenhout, how and in what projects have you been involved thus far?
Bezuidenhout: This is a dream partnership for me and I’m so grateful that Mr. Blank has given me this opportunity. As people will know, I’ve been affected by a stutter all my life. Back in the day, we never had any education about stuttering or how to deal with it. But we know so much more now. The work that Dr Byrd and her team are doing at the Blank Center is inspiring and I’m happy to be getting involved in various events.
I love the ‘Dream, Speak, Live’ slogan and what it stands for. I even have the words stamped on my Callaway wedges. My wife Kristen is heavily involved too. The amount of work she puts into the Center to help kids and adults with their communication skills and confidence is amazing. I’m so proud of her.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout’s golf wedges bear an engraving of the initiative’s slogan, “Dream. Speak. Live.”
IWC donates one of its iconic Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Ref. IW503302 to The Blank Center
Children attending one of the Dream.Speak.Live. camps
Dr. Courtney Byrd with one of the participants
Dr. Byrd with children with a stutter attending the program
DESERVING THAT EXTRA TIME
Based on your personal experience, why do you think the work of the Blank Center is so fundamental?
Bezuidenhout: Seriously, what the Center is doing here is life changing for these kids. I know from my own experience that stuttering can affect your confidence and hold you back, it can affect your ability to mix with other kids; it can be very isolating and that’s sad. The wonderful thing about this partnership is together we can educate people about stuttering and teach them how to handle certain situations better.
Byrd: We have had that goal for 25 years, and it’s only recently that people are beginning to see that what we’re saying is saving lives. We have substantial data to show that there are devastating effects if children and adults spend years in therapy with the target of being fluent and not being able to achieve that. The impact it has on them psychologically is significant. They feel repeated failure because that goal of speaking fluently is not attainable. They’re trying and failing to achieve it over and over again.
The other critical part is with young children at school. If they stutter, teachers are hesitant to call on them, or to ask them to give presentations. What does that do with them? It teaches the child that the only way they are allowed to communicate in the classroom, is if they can do so fluently. Once they get to college, they are years behind their peers in terms of practice. This is why we see so many teens and adults contemplating suicide. What we need to be doing is just the opposite. “Oh, Jack stutters. Guess what. You better call on him. I want you to make sure that he is always raising his hand, and that he is always presenting. He will just need more time, and he deserves that time.”
THE NEED TO EMBRACE STUTTERING
During your work with the Blank Center, have there been any moments that were particularly emotional for you?
Bezuidenhout: We visited the Center for the first time earlier this year and that was a really nice experience. The kids were fantastic, they were so happy and so positive. We had a great time. It gave me a chance to talk to them and share my story.
I remember one of the big breakthroughs for me was to accept the fact that I stuttered. I always tried to speak fluently and unfortunately that was never gonna be the case. I had to embrace the fact that I stuttered and that’s when I became more comfortable and confident. You also have to learn to concentrate on your breathing and what you want to say before you say it. Yeah, once I’d learnt that, that definitely helped me too. I think it helps the kids to hear my story, see what I’ve achieved in golf, and hopefully they feel inspired to chase their own dreams.
What projects will be supported with the funds raised during the charity event?
Byrd: 100% of the funds will go towards the Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research. Funding will be used to support our new international speech camps in South Africa, Norway, Portugal and Sweden. It will provide scholarships to graduate and undergraduate students in speech language pathology, travel support and scholarships to families from underrepresented and marginalized communities so they can receive our programming at no cost.
CHANGE THE WORLD - ONE STEP AT A TIME
What message would both of you like to convey to the participants of the golf charity event and to our readers?
Bezuidenhout: We’re so excited about the golf day in Atlanta; it’s going to be an incredible day. We’re going to raise a lot of money for the Blank Center and I want to personally thank everyone involved. Thank you also to IWC for the support; I know you guys are putting up a beautiful watch as a hole-in-one prize on one of the par-3s. It all helps spread the message of what we’re trying to do at the Center. If no one makes a hole-in-one, we’re going to auction the watch with all proceeds going to the Blank Center. Anyway, to all the parents out there who have a child who stutters, just be there and support them in everything they do. And to all the kids out there who stutter, I’d just say to them, Dream, Speak, Live!
Byrd: I would like them to know that people who stutter are among the brightest, kindest and most extraordinary people in the world. And that with their help in raising awareness as to the nature of stuttering and best practice for stuttering, together we will change the world, so that children, teens and adults who stutter are inspired to pursue their dreams, speak from their hearts and live their lives to the fullest.
Established in 2020 at The University of Texas at Austin, the Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research advances understanding about the nature and effective treatment of stuttering. It offers international programming and camps all over the world to children, teenagers and adults at no cost.
If you would like to make a donation to the Dream.Speak.Live initiative, please click here.
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