Thriving as a Sportswriter in the Face of Adversity – Ryan Cowley

About the Author:

Ryan Cowley has been a sportswriter for many years, contributing to major platforms such as CBC Sports and The Globe & Mail in addition to his own website, MakeWayfortheKings.net, and currently for CaliSportsNews.com. A person who stutters since childhood, Ryan has turned his inactivity from fear into new opportunities from regularly interviewing sports figures to performing stand-up comedy, which he did briefly years earlier. Ryan loves what he does and is happy to share his story of resilience to inspire others. Ryan lives in Toronto with his wife, Shannon, and their two cats.

Dating back to childhood, hockey and writing are two of my biggest interests in life.

While I watched the former religiously, I was never a good hockey player. I could barely skate and I was certainly never blessed with the athletic gifts most of my friends had. Nevertheless, my love for hockey had never wavered.

As someone who has always enjoyed writing, I would dip my toes, so to speak, in poetry, screenwriting and short stories. Then, just for fun, I began writing about hockey — whether it was involving my favorite teams or major stories happening within the sport.

One of my friends read a few of my thoughts and wondered if I had ever considered a career in sports journalism, believing that I could excel in said field. Upon his suggestion, I hadn’t; but it certainly made me begin to consider such a career. Writing about hockey was easy for me. Finding what has turned out to be true passion, however, was anything but.

When I graduated high school, I was encouraged to veer away from writing and rather, to find a field that made the most sense in terms of both opportunity and income. I took said route only to find that I was miserable.

Pursuing a career I had no passion or love for affected me mentally and even physically. What made matters worse is that since I was a person who stuttered, I was told that there were a number of careers I wouldn’t be able to pursue: to name just three, a teacher, a lawyer and a journalist.

While I had no interest in the former two, I was determined to show skeptics that I could achieve the latter, stutter and all.

As a child, I was mocked; as an adult, I’ve been ignored, not taken seriously and worse, excluded.

The mocking I dealt with as a child left scars, but I’ve been more forgiving of these instances in hindsight as those who committed said mockery were children themselves and most likely didn’t know any better from a lack of education.

The unpleasant experiences I have dealt with as an adult, however, had left deeper scars — leaving me to wonder what I did to be ignored, not taken seriously or excluded by grown men and women who, from my vantage point, at least, should have known better than to treat a person who stutters like an inferior being, someone who lacks intelligence.

While anger is certainly an understandable reaction, it was not a justified reaction. Why let the anger, as well as the frustration and even bitterness, of being thought less of take over?

I wanted to do something about these slights, and I did – by showing why the pen is mightier than the sword.

If people hear me speak, or try to speak, they jump to the false conclusion that I lack intelligence.

For a long time, this either left me angry or despondent to the extent where I was more content to give up or feel sorry for myself rather than proving those skeptics wrong and, better yet, proving to myself that it was worthwhile to be resilient.

While I avoided situations that required me to use the phone, whether it’d be for personal matters or professionally — I never applied to call centres or receptionist positions — the phone was off-limits as far as I was concerned.
Through a lot of personal soul-searching, which included my passion and a personal identity, I began to write about sports.

When I began writing about sports, specifically hockey, it had started with mock articles through MySpace and Facebook. Soon, my platform turned into my own website where I would write about what was going on with my favorite hockey team — the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League — and I absolutely loved it. I found my voice and, using an age-old football analogy, I took the ball and ran with it.

After a few years, though, I wanted to write stories from the perspective of others. This meant I had to seek out others for interviews.

While we are fortunate to live in the day and age of email and text messaging, I knew that I needed to start using the phone to get interviews the way I wanted them, which included stories from qualitative and quantitative measures.
Over email, I’d receive a response to a question that was maybe a couple of sentences long. Over the phone, my responses would be paragraphs long, which included the emotion of my interviewee telling their story.

The latter felt — and was, quite frankly — so much better. I wanted to do this regularly, though, so, using today’s technology, I decided to prerecord my questions, but not before giving my interviewees a forewarning about my unorthodox method of communication.

Borrowing an idea from “The King’s Speech”, I had tried speaking while listening to classical music through my headphones. It worked.

This, paired with the knowledge that I stutter far less when I’m not on the phone, I decided to use a recording app on my laptop for my pre-recording of questions. This also worked.

I even went as far as prerecording what I’d like to say as sidebars and even thanking my interviewees for their time.
Best of all, I began with this method during a very difficult time both personally and professionally.

Having been let go from a writing job with a marketing company, I was riddled with self-doubt, not to mention acrimony from said dismissal.

As the old adage goes, though, I was determined to turn a negative into a positive, and that is exactly what I did. Better yet, what turned out to be a small handful of interviews — primarily from former Kings’ players about their respective careers — turned into a regular occurrence, going as far as interviewing coaching, scouting and player development staff regarding the future talent of the Los Angeles Kings and beyond.

I want my story to serve as a stark reminder that, no matter what obstacles others face and no matter how bleak or unpromising the future may seem, it is imperative to keep fighting, to do what you love. Plus, in doing so, it is important to remember to do what you love for yourself. It may be fun, and even vindicating, to prove others wrong, but it is paramount to prove yourself right first and foremost.

My story is for all people who stutter and also for their families and their friends. It is also a story for anyone simply looking for inspiration, a reminder that anything can be accomplished if you set your mind to it.

I accomplished what I set to accomplish during a very uncertain time in my life and I even thrived on what I love even further this past year when we were in self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter is especially resonant as this affected not just a country or a region, but the entire world.

I thrived as a sportswriter in the face of adversity. I am proud of that and even prouder to share my story. After all, if I can do it, anyone can do it.

Thank you for reading.



 455 total views,  1 views today

Comments

Thriving as a Sportswriter in the Face of Adversity – Ryan Cowley — 25 Comments

  1. Good day, everyone!

    This is my story and I hope you enjoy it.

    If you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to post here.

    Thank you and enjoy!

    • I am a current graduate student majoring in speech language pathology. Before I found speech, my first love was writing. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to break into the journalism world. You have continued to find work through a pandemic; this is commendable! In undergrad, I used to have fears about my ability to speak on radio or television due to my stutter. I embraced my fear by hosting a show on my college radio station. Like you, I was also able to turn a negative into a positive. I plan to return to writing one day. This time, I’ll have insight from a journalistic and clinical perspective.

      • Thank you for sharing this with me! I hope my story has helped you. I’m inspired by you having hosted our own show on radio. Radio/podcasting is one area I haven’t approached like I want to, so big kudos to you on that.
        But if you need anything else or if you need any assistance or perspective on future projects, feel free to email me (I included it below in my closing comment).
        Thanks again.

  2. Ryan thank you for this. I love this part: “While anger is certainly an understandable reaction, it was not a justified reaction. Why let the anger, as well as the frustration and even bitterness, of being thought less of take over?”

    That is such a critical point in order to let go of the judgement by others and not let it impact you as nothing gets accomplished if you take that anger with you.

    Do you feel proud that you are a person who stutters now or do you still wish that you did not in order to make your career easier? Would love to get your perspective on this to help me better understand what your mindset is towards your stutter now.

    • Hi Kunal, thank you for reaching out.
      That’s a great question!
      I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m proud of being a person who stutters so much as that I’m proud of the lessons I’ve learned from being a PWS and having the strength to share those lessons/stories.
      There was a time — a long time — where I was ashamed of being a PWS, going as far as going to lengths to hide it. I’m no longer ashamed of this and I never will be again.
      With that being said, there are times that I still wish I didn’t in order to make my career — and even mundane tasks using the phone — easier, but there are less of those days now than there were even just a few years ago. That’s not to say I feel complacent, I’m not, but overall, I’m happy with the way things are going.
      At the end of the day, it’s about perspective. When I was teenager at summer camp, there was a girl who was born with very short arms. She told us how she’d always wear long sleeves or coats to hide it but it was only she started to show her arms that she became more confident and more people gravitated towards her. I thought about that years later and realized that if anyone has an issue with your affliction, that’s on them; focus on those who don’t — and there are so many more who don’t — and go from there.
      That’s what I did and I’m happy I’m here today telling my story. A part of me wishes that I realized this earlier but at the same time, it’s never too late for anything.

  3. Hey Ryan! This is a really great story about resilience and adversity and just pursuing one’s passion. I was engaged and connected to every word you said. The draw of a great writer such as yourself. I feel many choose a field in life because it is lucrative but not what one wants to do. Yet, some feel if they don’t take the lucrative path, they won’t be able to have a sustainable life with another such as raising a family. Your story shows, and I like how you put it, “Pursuing a career I had no passion or love for affected me mentally and even physically” that doing something lucrative isn’t always rewarding. It may get you back on your feet if you’re in a rut and need income but long term it won’t work if one isn’t passionate. You are passionate about sports writing so that’s the field you chose. Good for you for staying true to what you want instead of proving others wrong. A lesson I still need to learn myself.

    I’d imagine getting those interviews up and running couldn’t have been easy but writing for platforms such as CBC and The Globe are impressive and I’m sure getting far into your career as you have, the income is nice so it’s win-win. You’re doing something you love and getting paid to do it. You did it all for you.

    I do have one question about the interviews you did: You said you borrowed a few techniques from The King’s Speech. Do you still use those techniques today or are you pretty good on the phone now with your speech?

    • Hi! Thank you for reading and for reaching out! I appreciate your kind words.

      To answer your question, though, I still do borrow those techniques but not quite as much. It’s a progressive decrease, as I like to call it.

      The phone remains a challenge for me but instead of pre-recording every question, I make a concerted effort to recite at least one question per interview on the spot. It’s a work-in-progress as I have my share of difficulties speaking over the phone but it’s little by little.

      I hope to get to a place where I’m not reliant on these methods at all, but that will come with time, practice and, of course, patience.

      I hope this answers your question.

      Thank you again for reading!

      • Little by little, I like that! Baby steps. The best way to overcome a challenge. No need to rush into it headfirst. I feel all of our journey’s are a work in progress because we are always learning. I believe some day you won’t need those methods anymore but until that day comes, if they still work for you, more power to you. We got to do what we gotta do to pursue something we’re passionate about and you’re doing that. Keep it up!

        • Thank you! My philosophy is to get a little better each day.
          It’s natural to want to accomplish everything you want to as soon as possible but, using sports as an example, if you’re down 5-0 in a game, don’t go in there knowing you’re going to overcome the deficit. Don’t try eating the whole pie at once, in other words. Work towards the first goal/run/point and go from there. Forget about the time — do what you need to. And if you end up losing the game, that’s okay. Losing is a part of life. It’s about what you reveal en route to the loss and after the loss.
          And if you want to have a day to feel down, take the day to do so; just as long as you have a plan to rebound afterwards.

  4. Hi Ryan,

    Thank you for sharing your story as it was very interesting to read about some ways you adapted to things that you feared like phone calls interviews. I also admire your willingness to go and do the career that you are passionate about. I feel like so many people go through what you did with pursuing one’s dream job, or going into a career that guarantees good pay and security. I feel you had double the amount of doubt towards you because of being a PWS and journalism could be challenging due to that. I am glad you were able to prove those around you wrong and chase after sports writing.

    A question I have would be if you didn’t have a stutter do you think you would be in the position you are today? Did having the stutter make you more bold about going after a career as a sportswriter?

    Thanks for your time,
    Emily Christopher

    • Hi Emily,
      Thank you for writing. I appreciate your kind words.

      To answer your question, yes. I really don’t think about it anymore but being a person who stutters has given me an extra jolt of determination to be a sportswriter, especially when it comes to interviewing others.
      If I didn’t have a stutter, I’d probably still be passionate about sportswriting but I’d go at it a bit differently.
      It would be a bit easier, granted, but I wouldn’t trade my situation for that. It’s shaped who I am and I love that.

  5. Hi Ryan,

    I love this piece. You are stunningly honest and offer quite a few gems to help others who stutter in all stages of their journey, and where ever they may live.

    My question: Do you think you have excelled at writing because you believe you could be fluent as a writer?

    I always felt I was a better writer than verbal communicator. Writing well gave me the confidence to share my voice, especially when people began to read my work and offer positive praise and feedback.

    I’m always curious if others who stutter do (or have) felt the same way.

    Pam

    • Hi Pam!

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed my piece!
      That is a very good question. But yes, I do feel like I’ve excelled at writing because I’m more fluent as a writer.
      I believe I’d be a writer regardless but there’s something about being a PWS that adds that drive.
      To me, it’s like making my mark as a writer, showing that while it may take me a while to say what I want to say verbally, it doesn’t mean that I can’t express myself articulately.
      I’ve also worked as a Communications Officer via email and I’ve always excelled at that as well. Plus, as a PWS, I’ve become very empathetic and that serves as a huge advantage in my latter role.

      Thanks again, Pam.

      Ryan

  6. Ryan, Thank you for sharing your story.

    It all resonated with me but this part most:

    “I want my story to serve as a stark reminder that, no matter what obstacles others face and no matter how bleak or unpromising the future may seem, it is imperative to keep fighting, to do what you love. Plus, in doing so, it is important to remember to do what you love for yourself. It may be fun, and even vindicating, to prove others wrong, but it is paramount to prove yourself right first and foremost.”

    I do have a question, though. What advice would you have for your younger self as an older, more experienced person who stutters?

    Keep up the great work, Ryan!

    • Thank you, Grady! And great question!

      My advice would be to speak at every opportunity you can. That’s not to suggest raising your hand every few seconds in class, for instance, but don’t shy away from an opportunity where you want to contribute.
      There are so many times — in school, in groups, at family events — I wish I would’ve spoken up but didn’t because I was too afraid of stuttering.
      When I worked in retail years ago, the thought of using the phone gave me so much anxiety. But, the more I did it, the more comfortable I was. It even got to a point where I wanted a reason to call another store. That also helped me gain so much confidence.
      I’m sorry I fell out of that routine when I left retail but regardless, don’t let fear let you pass up any opportunities.
      If you stutter, you stutter; and if people think less of you or laugh at you, let them.
      Don’t think less of yourself at all. Their reactions are on them and only them.
      That may be easier said than done but all the more reason to try harder.

      • Ryan, Thanks for responding. This is all great. Thank you for your insights.
        You have the right attitude and I commend you on that.
        Thanks, Ryan, and keep up the great work!

  7. Hello Ryan,

    We enjoyed reading your story and experiencing your point of view of your career. From our perspective you’ve shown so much resilience and have demonstrated innovation in your field of interviewing. The pre-recording strategy seemed to be a successful method for your interviews. What have you found to be the most efficient way to conduct your interviews using your strategy? We imagine unforeseen circumstances arise occasionally when using the method. What are some challenges you encounter when using these methods, and how do you react?

    Thank you,
    Briemma, Anna, and Samantha

    • Hello Briemma, Anna and Samantha,

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.
      I really appreciate your thoughts on this, so thank you.

      The pre-recording strategy has definitely been a successful method but it continues to be a work-in-progress.
      There have been unforeseen circumstances and mostly ones I wish I had something prepared for. For instances, I’ve had some tell me how much they love my articles or one recent interview, he told me that he had a stutter as a child and called me an inspiration. So, those instances I wasn’t prepared for were overwhelming positive but I do wish I had said something fluent — and I didn’t, unfortunately, because of my own insecurities from childhood (i.. people interrupting me on the phone or hanging up on me) not appreciating that those I speak with on the phone never interrupt me or anything (and if they do, they’re trying to finish my sentence in a helpful way). This is something I make a conscious effort to improve on. It’ll take time but that’s okay.
      To answer your first question, though, the most efficient way to conduct my interviews is to recite them the same way I would if I were speaking on the spot. When I started this, I was so fixated on being fluent that my delivery had no personality to them. The way I asked my questions sounded boring and there’s more to me than that.

      Briemma, Anna and Samantha, I hope my answers help but thank you again for writing in!

      Ryan

    • Thank you, Dan! This has been great! So many amazing stories — I’m just honoured to be a part of it!

  8. Hello Ryan,
    Thank you for sharing your story. This was very refreshing. You offer such a great perspective, especially for someone who has struggled with stuttering as long as you have.
    Even more, I’m happy to see that you’ve really capitalized on your career as a sportswriter.
    If I may, how do you generally feel leading up to an interview and how do you feel immediately following them?
    Ava

    • Thank you, Ava! I appreciate the kind words!
      Leading up to the call, I get nervous but it’s not nearly as bad as it once was. My stomach tightened, etc. Normal effects of nervousness 🙂
      What I’ve gotten in the habit of doing, though, is texting them 10-15 minutes before to confirm but also to remind them of my stuttering if I feel I need to. That definitely helps. Those I’m calling on a landline, though, is tough but that’s become more rare these days.
      Afterwards, honestly, more often than not, I feel on top of the world. Some interviews are quicker than others but everyone’s been pleasant, leaving me happy. But, for those who are more invested whether it’s telling their story or in my journey as a person who stutters, I feel like a million bucks, for lack of a better term.
      It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for years now, having interviewed hundreds of people this way. It’s humbling but I love it.
      I hope this helps, Ava, but thanks again for reading.

  9. I want to take a moment to thank those who read my story. I hope you enjoyed it and that you took something from it.

    Commenting closes soon, so if you’d like to reach out, you can email me at ryanacowley@gmail.com or find me on LinkedIn.

    Thank you and Happy International Stuttering Awareness Day.

    Be safe and healthy.

    Kind regards,
    Ryan

  10. I am a current graduate student majoring in speech language pathology. Before I found speech, my first love was writing. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to break into the journalism world. You have continued to find work through a pandemic; this is commendable! In undergrad, I used to have fears about my ability to speak on radio or television due to my stutter. I embraced my fear by hosting a show on my college radio station. Like you, I was also able to turn a negative into a positive. I plan to return to writing one day. This time, I’ll have insight from a journalistic and clinical perspective.